The Feast of Saint Patrick – Patron Saint of Ireland

Today is the feast of Saint Patrick, today we celebrate his sainthood, and the ascendance to heaven of a British man, of Roman heritage, who lived sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries CE.

Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, but he was not Irish at all, he was a Roman of the Patrician class, from a family of rank and privilege.  

Patrick (Patricius) is credited with converting the people of Erin to faith in the Universal and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, in so doing he separated the Celtic people from their Gaelic traditions, subordinating them to the Catholic Church in Rome; he won with the Word what could not be accomplished through war, by sword and spear, by fire and blood and for this Patricius was named a Saint of the Church.

It should be noted that Saint Patrick has never been canonized, or even beatified not by any Pope, therefore Patrick is not officially a Saint of the Catholic Church; nevertheless, he is recognized in the annals of the Saints of the Church of England, I hope that all my Irish kinfolk appreciate the irony of this.

It is an irony worthy of song.

History tells us that Patrick was a humble man, a rare quality for those of rank. History also tells us that he himself proofed the plan of spreading the faith by converting the Irish chieftains first, this became the model for proselytizing and missionary work throughout Northern Europe.

Patrick was a politician of great skill. He spread the faith, established churches and earned the rank of Apostle by popular acclamation.

History tells us that his mother was a relative of Saint Martin of Tours, the Patron Saint of Soldiers otherwise known as Saint Martin of the Sword, whose biography was written by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, and history also tells us that this a work of pure fiction; Saint Martin never lived, even so, his story gave license for Christians to become soldiers, to serve in the army and as such his story brought the Roman legions into the fold.

Patrick was said to have had a “heroic piety,” praying day and night, in the mountains and in the woods, he prayed through the rain and through storms of snow and ice, he should be the patron saint of post men if this were true, but then again…all hagiographies are lies.

His story tells us that he spent six years as a captive and servant to a Celtic Chieftain, the Druid named Milchu in Dalriada, where he mastered the language of the common folk and learned all of their stories.

However, if you appreciate history you will know that it is much more likely that he fled his home to wander abroad in order to escape the duties that were expected of him as the son of a nobleman. Such departures were common in his time, they were referred to as the “flight of the curiales,” and you may conclude that Patrick was no captive at all, he was just a boy running away from his responsibilities.

Rather than being taken captive it is more likely that he paid for asylum in Milchu’s house, and that while he was there he paid for the services of tutors who helped him learn the language. The Druids were great teachers and oral historians, this much we know is true.

The story of Patrick’s escape (if it was in fact an escape from servitude), and subsequent journey were of his own account. He cast the entire experience in dramatic, even biblical terms, which served both to cover up his crime of abnegation and to establish his fame.

It is said that Patrick escaped from Milchu and then fled to the mainland of Europe where he entered the priesthood and became a missionary. On his return to Ireland however, the first place he went was to his former home in Dalriada. Where, after some period of conflict with his former captor (or patron) and the affectation of some miracles on Patrick’s part, Milchu is said to have immolated himself in order to make way for the upstart Patrick, throwing himself on a fire after burning the collected scrolls and mysteries of his people.

This event may be seen in metaphorical terms as Milchu offering himself as a human sacrifice, at the foundation of the church in Ireland, that is how Patrick wrote it.

In reality the whole episode denotes the ritual destruction of the Celtic people in favor of the ascending Romano-British invaders.

On Easter Sunday, 433 a conflict of will ensued between Patrick and the Celtic Arch-Druid Lochru, historians mythologized it as a battle of divine forces like the contest between Moses and the Egyptians or Elijah and priests of Baal, and it ended with Saint Patrick magically hurling Lochru into the air, before he broke the druid into pieces on a sharp rock.

It was another ritual murder at the foundation of the Irish Church, another human sacrifice to be sure; there is no other way to read it, this was a good old-fashioned Roman slaughter.

On a side note, while speaking of his vaunted magic powers, and not to be outdone by Jesus, this same Patrick was said to have been able to raise the dead.

It should be noted the Saint Columbanus, the Patron Saint of Poetry, who was the most significant representative of the Irish Catholic Church after the Dark Ages, who lived and wrote and sent missionaries from Ireland to Continental Europe, where they built Churches and founded religious communities, Saint Columbanus (otherwise known as Columba or Colmcille) makes no mention of Saint Patrick in his writing, not once, not anywhere; on the contrary Columbanus tells us that the Church in Ireland was founded by a man named Palladius.

I think it may be said that the entire legend of Saint Patrick is little more than a myth designed to subordinate the Irish heart to a British nobleman of Roman descent, and a fictitious one at that.

Be mindful when you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day!

Brenda Ueland – Author and Hero

Brenda lived most of her life writing and teaching in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the city where I grew up, and within a mile or two of where I have lived most of my life.

I was well into my forties before I even knew who she was, and from the moment I read her book: If You Want to Write I knew that I had found a mentor whose simple prose and honesty could guide me in the maturation of my own work.

Brenda, taught writing at the YWCA, she published a memoir about her life growing up in Minneapolis and  she wrote as a columnist for local newspapers and magazines, she wrote for national publications like Harper’s as well.

Brenda was born in Minneapolis at the end of the nineteenth century; she spent her twenties in New York City where she was connected to various movements in arts, literature and politics. She was a proto-feminist and a revolutionary thinker, and she came to all of that with a simple self-assuredness that was her defining characteristic.

This is why she is a hero to me…her teaching, which she summarized in her treatise on writing, provides the most simple and profound guidance: she tells her students to find their own voice and write from there.

She encourages people to simply be themselves, to tell their stories with the written word as if they were speaking to their closest friend, to shout when they are shouting, and to whisper in the time of whispering.

She told them to be true to themselves, to write with authenticity, because she says: the reader will know if you are faking.

She encourages people to listen to themselves, and to become familiar with the sound of their own voice.

Her book on writing had been out of print for nearly forty years until, a few years after her death in the 1980’s when it went back into production and became a best seller.

Like Brenda herself, her book was ahead of its time, and is the best treatise on writing I have ever read.

Below is an essay I wrote as a response to her advice:

Inspiration and Futility

Alternating Between the Poles

This essay examines the role that inspiration has played in my creative life; as a writer, as a thinker, as an academic.

Inspiration is a broad and multi-faceted subject, I focus on three aspects: the moment, the content, and the expression of inspiration.

So that I may avoid engendering the misperception that my creative life has been an extended moment of awe, mystery and transcendence, I will also present a discussion of my struggles with a deep and pervasive sense of futility regarding my creative mission, a negativism that has dogged me like a cynic over the years.

I have a sharp sense for the inspired moment, moments that come in many ways, and not all of them my own.

There are not enough hours in the day for me to list the catalysts that have informed my creative drive, but when they come together, those disparate things and beings, those moments when memories interact with consciousness in real-time, when relationships become apparent that had never before been discerned, when, like alchemy, or a flash in the pan…wham!

The creative spirit comes.

In those moments, when my attention is keen, my attention is singular, a path toward the end of a creative ambition becomes clear, and my will becomes fixed on a specific set of steps, like the choreography of a dance. That is the inspired state, when burgeoning insight is precipitously balanced with a readiness to act.

These moments come to all of us, we sense them when they do. The wise will seize them, dwell within them, and linger in their space.

True inspiration is more than a feeling.

The truly inspired moment comes into consciousness with content, it is the flash that both illuminates and enlightens. It is a flare in the dark whose sudden eruption points the way, either out, or in.

When inspired content first springs to mind it is like that brief look you are allowed, of the image you are trying to construct from a jig-saw puzzle. There it is, in your mind, for a moment, and now you have to put it all together with only the memory of that vision to guide you.

The inspired moment is more than a feeling, more than awe, more than a sense of mystery, or of transcendence, but feeling is an essential part of it, and that feeling is not a tepid one.

Inspiration is light; yes, but not without heat. It is hot with imperative, with the command to do; to write, to stand, to move.

Inspiration is like the germination of a seed, a seed that is fully formed in its flower, and expressed completely in its fruit.       

Inspiration is a force. It is dynamic. In a literal way, inspiration is the movement of the Spirit within us, enlivening, vivifying, it is as much a part of us as the air we breathe. It is a “divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the soul of humankind.”[1]

To speak of inspiration in its aspects, or its parts, is somewhat artificial, perhaps impossible, as if when speaking of a wave you can name its peak, and its trough, without acknowledging that the two are essentially one, alternating and changing.

The inspired moment must be followed by a genuine enthusiasm for the work that lies ahead, enthusiasm which is itself synonymous for the indwelling of the divine.[2] When the inspired moment comes we must find a way to let it be within us.[3]

Inspiration is personal. It occurs in the lives of real people, and though it comes with great power, it is nevertheless subject to the cares and concerns of the individual, but the caring for it comes throughout the course of our daily lives.

Brenda Ueland says this about inspiration:

Inspiration does not (in fact) come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving but it comes to us slowly and quietly all of the time. But we must regularly and every day give it a chance to start flowing, and prime it with a little solitude and idleness. I learned that when writing you should not feel like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.[4]

It may appear that Brenda has said something different or contradictory to what I said about inspiration in part I of this essay, but she and I are not necessarily speaking to divergent ends.

I have talked about the power of inspiration as a force, about its flash and dynamism. Brenda says that inspiration it is not that. I have been talking about the beginning of inspiration, she is talking about what comes after the inspired moment.

Brenda is talking about living with inspiration, about the inspired life that comes after the vision, she is talking about the falling rain, after the thunder claps and the clouds burst.

What Brenda is talking about is the more important part of inspiration. The inspired moment may fill us with vision and give us purpose, but nobody (nobody that I know of) can live out their lives in that ecstatic state.

Inspiration is like electricity. There is so much power in it. To stay in the inspired moment forever would burn us up.

The key to living with inspiration, to carrying out the inspired visionwe have received, is to regulate that power. We regulate it through habit, ritual and disciplined work, like stringing beads together in kindergarten, Brenda says we must allow for some downtime, in order to give our circuitry a break.

Having space, being quiet, experiencing emptiness, these are essential for cultivating inspiration.

Doris Lessing, says in her Nobel acceptance speech[5]: “Have you found that space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas—inspiration.”

Like Brenda Ueland, Doris Lessing is talking more about the care for, and the nurturing of, the creative-will within us, what I would call the expression of inspiration and the cultivation of its content. This is something that should be differentiated from the inspired moment itself.

In Part II of this essay, Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing strikes the most vital point. She addresses the need to listen, to listen to one’s self.

It is altogether easy to listen to our inner critic, that insipid, clamoring voice knows exactly how to get our attention, but how much more important, and life giving is it to listen to our creative voice, to hearken to it music, and care for it, like the gardener who cares for the tender shoot as it pokes its stem up from the soil to unfurl its fronds.

For art to find its expression we must give our creative voice the attention it deserves, turn to it rather than the noisome din of the inner critic?

We must listen to the clear pealing of the bell, whether it is faint or loud.

Brenda Ueland said this in reference to the power of listening in her essay Tell Me More:

I want to write about the great and powerful thing that listening is, and how we forget it. And how we don’t listen…to those we love. And least of all, to those we don’t love. Because listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.

When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life…It makes people happy and free when they are listened to.

When we listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. Now this little creative fountain is in all. It is the spirit, or the intelligence, or the imagination—whatever you want to call it. If you are tired, strained, have no solitude, run too many errands, talk to too many people, drink too many cocktails, this little fountain is muddied over and covered with a lot of debris. The result is that you stop living from the center…it is when people really listen to us, with quiet fascinated attention, that the little fountain begins to work again, to accelerate in the most surprising ways.[6]

Take these words about listening, about how we feel when we are listened to and relate them to our creativity.

If we can slow down, be fascinated with our ideas, and attentive to our own needs, then we will have the time to express our creative voice.

If we listen to the stirring of the heart, that stirring will grow into a song, and then a chorus, with a symphony to follow. It will expand and unfold within us encompassing both our heights and our depths, extending itself throughout our lives while conjoining our peaks and troughs, making of them a singular unbroken wave.

What we have discussed to this point, in parts I – III of this essay, that is the flowering side of the garden. It is the place where we love to be, when everything is growing well and going right, but there are many times in our lives, countless times, when inspiration strikes and is not received. when it is received and not acted on, when it is acted upon and is not fulfilled.

There are many forces; both within us, and without, that are opposed to the power of inspiration. They are the menial and the mundane, the day to day duties that obscure our vision, the doubts that disrupt the voice of the muse, the cold fingers of fear clutching at the heart, tearing at the will, and the hand that stills them.

The death of inspiration comes through that inner critic, the one who tells us that our work is futile[7], frivolous, and useless, the one who spreads the debris and the clutter that covers the bright and bubbling fountain within us.

The Spirit blows where it will, and reaches everyone. The muses[8] sing to us all. Whether we think of the force of inspiration as divine, as a gift that comes from without, or as an innate power that is inherent to our being, as our “true self” speaking to us. When the moment comes we must, each of us, fit it into our busy lives, either that or forget about it and watch it fade away.

Brenda Ueland says[9] that “the true self is really the Conscience (or God)” not speaking to us about “morality or convention” but daring us to explore the “truth (in ourselves) toward bravery and the greater life.” When you find that truth, she says, your true self, “and see how gifted you are, you can write as slowly as you want to.” You can let the world be the world, and not let it set you off the course of fulfilling your vision.

The weal of our life will turn, our inspiration will rise with it, if we let it. We will lift from it, and jump off it, just as we reach the apex of the curve, or the moment will pass, as we cling to the wheel, as it turns around, and down we go, pushed into the ground of uselessness and futility.

I have been inspired, felt the spirit of inspiration move within me. I have been overcome by the hot flash of a great idea, felt the deep desire to act, heard the voice within me speaking; slowly, steadily, quietly; and at other times; fast, demanding, and loud. I have not always listened, but then again, I have not always known how.

The moment of inspiration can be startling. As awesome as inspiration can be, it is not always brought about by the sublime, the divine and the lovely. Truth, beauty, and goodness are not the only things that catch my attention or make me want to do something.

Sometimes I am moved by what is altogether mundane, human, and vicious, by evil, ugliness and lies. Sometimes I am moved not to stand up, but to take a stand, not to move, but to be unmoving.

When inspiration comes, the heart and the mind must be open. Inspiration may be triggered from outside of ourselves, from something we witness, such as the splendor of nature, a grand view, or a shocking event.

Inspiration may come from something small and simple, from a conversation, or a question. The moment may come, and go in an instant, leaving it up to us to make sense of its significance, to the mediation of our genius, or the daemon within us.[10]

There is an encounter that plays itself out in my consciousness over and over again. The encounter between my inspiration, and futility, by which I mean doubt about the purpose I feel that I am directed toward.

This is the dialog between my creative self and my inner critic.

For instance, I have been, and I am inspired to share with Christians the gospel as I understand it, which is a gospel centered on the hope of universal salvation.

My first encounter with this doctrine came out of my own active imagination, a discourse with my daemon, if you will. It came by thinking logically about some of the most basic claims that Christians make about God: that God is love, and loving; that God is all-powerful (omnipotent), that God has the perfect ability to accomplish God’s will; that God is all-knowing (omniscient), that God knows us, understands us, even as we know ourselves; that God is omnipresent (not, not-present in any space), that God is with us and God wants us with God.

These claims led me to the logical conclusion that, when all things are said and done, there are  no barriers to God having God’s way in the matter of our salvation.

If God truly wills the salvation of all people, which Christian doctrine claims that God does, then God will save all people.

My grasp of this argument came in a flash. It came as inspiration. It was both intuitive and revelatory, and it came when I was fairly young, at the age of fifteen.

In the ten years that followed I did not do much with this idea, except that I would using it in the occasional argument I might have with a fundamentalist Christian.

In that period there were moments when I would recapture that feeling of inspiration, but not every argument I pursued produced those feelings. When I would argue the doctrine with people who could grasp the logic, that feeling of inspiration would ignite inside of me, I would want to linger in the conversation and explore all of its implications, both in terms of human destiny, and in terms of the future of Christianity.

However, when my interlocutors could not grasp the logic, I often felt like Sisyphus, endlessly pushing that great rock up the hill. The same words and concepts that might delight me on one occasion, would on another occasion come out sounding like a drone in my ears.

Or, what was even worse for me were the occasions when I found myself talking and talking all night long, and really enjoying the sound of my voice, exalting in the feelings I got from my partner in dialog, or whoever else might be listening, but walking away at the end of it thinking that I had accomplished nothing more than the self aggrandized-stroking of my ego.

When I was twenty-five years old I was beginning to organize a research paper for my undergraduate major in theology. I deeply wanted to write about this doctrine. It was still inspiring me, and now it was motivating me to do something, to write, to research to demonstrate the validity of my claims in a formal way. I was moving beyond the arm-chair, outside of the coffee house, and though I was merely an undergraduate, I felt that I was doing real work in theology.

There was something else happening inside me as well. I was learning a lot. I was encountering more people, specifically, more educated people, people who wanted to argue with me, people who could hold up their end of the argument much better than the street corner variety of born-again-Christian.

I was also beginning to get a clear sense of the weight of history, of the philosophy of Christianity, its institutions, in its liturgy, and the power behind the traditional Christian doctrines that were arrayed against my simple logic.

It felt like that lil old ant, who thinks he can move that rubber tree plant. I had high hopes, but those hopes, and the inspired purpose that fueled them were frequently being assailed by a deepening sense of futility.

The question that my inner critic was asking me was this:

Is it possible for the most crystal-clear expression of the logic in Christian doctrine that I could change two thousand years of history and practice regarding the belief in hell and the theology of damnation?

Possible yes (I guess), but likely, no.

The creative spirit within me, my genius, was good at getting the last word, “keep working” it would say. “keep producing, keep on arguing.”

As an undergraduate I wrote my senior paper for my theology major on the topic of universal salvation, and then I doubled down on it and wrote my senior paper for my philosophy major on the same subject.

By the time I was done with that work, my research had uncovered some things for me.

The twentieth century had given the world many extremely intelligent, talented, philosophers and theologians who had been writing about this same topic. They were Oxford Dons, and University of Chicago Doctors, the alumni of one storied institution or another.

Their work inspired me. I wanted to lend my voice to theirs, carry on the good work, fight the good fight. However, the deeper I delved into the field, the more often I was faced with questions like this:

What is the point?

Why do I care?

If everyone is saved no matter what, why spend time and energy trying to convince people who do not believe it?

If in the end, it does not matter what a person believes, what church they belong to, why even bother with Christian Doctrine?

This is the voice of futility. It is my inner critic undermining me, attempting to convince me to give up, that the question that had inspired me was meaningless.

I learned that I was not the first person to be moved by this question, and not the first to resolve it. I learned that I would not be the last person to struggle with it.

Most importantly, I learned that there was very little that could be done to change the minds of the billions of Christians, Muslims, Jews and others who think and feel differently about our shared spiritual destiny. Most mono-theists, those who believe in some form of hell, they do not believe that God condemns people to hell because logic tells them so, they believe it because they want to believe it, because it makes them feel good.

I learned that logic, by itself, will not free them from those beliefs. 

My education was doing two things, it was arming me with more evidence, more arguments, more history. It was preparing me with expanded powers to synthesize and communicate those ideas. At the same time, it was informing me that no matter how great my dialectical powers might become, I would have little power to persuade the hearts and minds of the unwilling.

As for the willing, well, they were already with me, and that is preaching to the choir.

This is the nexus where my inspiration and my sense of futility meet, where my genius and my inner critic were hanging out inside my head. What happens in this encounter is very important, not just for me, but for everyone.

If you want to be true to the movement of the spirit within you, you may be called to stay with it for a very long time. You must listen to yourself, to the stirring in your heart, the choir that is singing there, like the bubbling of a fountain.

I have spoken of inspiration as a flash, a flare, a fire within, but it is more than that.

Inspiration is more than a vision that brings a small bit of joy, a quick illumination, or a fragment of understanding. If it were only that, then the vision would be a mirage, the illumination would burn as quickly as lime, and the understanding it imparted would be superficial.

Inspiration, when it is true, is a call to action. Sometimes what the inspired moment calls you to do, can be done quickly, and then it is over. Other inspired moments can call you to rearrange your entire life, while you engage with the inspiration throughout. The longer the commitment, the greater the temptation will be to yield to the inner critic and allow the inspired moment fade away under the force of futility.

You cannot escape the forces of futility. They work on the will and the imagination like entropy. Futility will assert itself and be an active part of working out your calling. And here is the thing, if you are dealing honestly with that force, if you grapple with it, you will find renewed inspiration in that struggle.

When I was working out my master’s thesis, and in the years since, I discovered that, none of my good ideas about universal salvation were new. I figured this out early in my research, many modern philosophers and theologians had written about the things that I was thinking about. I learned that every generation of Christians since the time of Christ had someone in the global community saying these exact same things.

The discovery I was making, each new voice I found was met by me with a kind of joy. It was a comfort to read their thoughts, to understand my own thoughts as an echo of theirs moving forward in time. We were sisters and brothers in the struggle to share the most poignant ppiece of the gospel, to tell the really good news: believe not so that you may be saved, believe that you are saved already and rejoice.

Then slowly, inexorably the weariness would set in. The resignation that came from the understanding that all of these good people, all of us, we were all like exiles in Christianity, just a tiny minority within the bigger movement.

The temptation to yield to futility can lead you to a seed bed of new inspiration. This is kind of like a buddy movie, where the two characters do not really get along: your inner critic and your creative self, think of The Odd Couple, of Felix and Oscar, always on each other’s nerves, and yet they are the best of friends.

At first blush, futility and inspiration seem like they are diametrically opposed, one voice is calling you to action, the other is asking you to sit down. Each would like to eliminate the other, but they are both a part of what makes us human.

Futility, like drag, will slow us down, this is not always bad, it can give us the time and space to rethink our approach, to listen, and even give us insight into how to move ahead better. Just because our inner critic is a critic does not mean that she or he is wrong.

Remember the wisdom of Brenda Ueland, when she said:

The creative power is in all of you (us) if you just give it a little time, if you believe in it and watch it come quietly into you; if you do not keep it out by always hurrying and feeling guilty during those times when you should be lazy and happy. Or if you do not keep the creative power away by telling yourself the worst of lies—that you don’t have any.[11]

Inspiration, if it is true, and we are true to it, will continually assert itself in our imagination, it will demand its place, find its voice, sometimes startling, sometimes quietly. That voice is yours, and mine. It will lead us out of the swamp, transform it into a verdant wetland, doing so in the light of our best expression, coming as fulfillment, and the radiance of joy.


[1] The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Inspiration, “1. Stimulation of the mind or the emotions to high level of feeling or activity. 5…Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the soul of humankind.”

[2] Rollo May, The Courage to Create, p. 103 “Apollo spoke in the first person through Pythia…the god was said to enter her at the very moment of her seizure, or enthusiasm, as the root of that term en-theo (‘in-god’), literally suggests.” W. W. Norton Company, New York, 1975.

[3] Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit: pp. 149-150. “Blake of course thought the imagination and inspiration (which we all have, as I have said) came from God and through God’s messengers; psychologists tell us it is rooted in the unconscious. But one explanation is as good another. I prefer Blake’s better because it is much easier to understand and more plausible…and remember the word enthusiasm means divine inspiration.” BN publishing, 2008

[4] Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit: p. 47, BN publishing, 2008

[5] Doris Lessing, Acceptance Speech, Nobel Prize for Literature, 2007.

[6] Brenda Ueland, Tell Me More, Strength to Your Sword Arm, pp. 205-210, Holy Cow! Press, Duluth 1984.

[7] The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Futile, “1. Having no useful result. 2. Trifling, and frivolous; idle.”

[8] The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Muse, “1. Greek Mythology Any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom resided over a different art or science. 2. A guiding spirit.”

[9] Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit: p. 121, BN publishing, 2008

[10] Both the Greeks and the Romans (as well as other ancient civilizations) had a highly developed notion of the duality of human nature. They each believed that our physical selves were accompanied by a spiritual being, coexisting with us on another plane of reality. The Romans called this spiritual counterpart our genius, and the Greeks called it the daemon; from these we get our terms “genius” and “demon.” A preference for Roman culture gave their word a positive connotation, and a pejorative connotation to the Greek cognate. Classical culture not only saw this aspect of ourselves as the point of contact between us and the divine realms, but the Roman word for this also means “begetter.” It is more than the aspect of ourselves that communicates inspiration, it is fundamentally the aspect of ourselves that oversees the production or the carrying our of what we have been inspired to do.

Barry B. Powell, Classical Myth, p. 631, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1995.  

[11] Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit: p. 46, BN publishing, 2008

Impressions

You have heard it said that you are where you have been; you are, this is true

You are, and you are what you eat: gram by gram, ounce by ounce, pound by pound

Amino acids, proteins housing memories, engram by engram

Wraiths rush past me, reflections in the dirty-glass, reaching out for me

The rainfall pools, collected in the dirty-street, ghosts jump in the light

Places I have been, the trajectory of fate—weaving memories

Warped purpose, threads patterns on the loom, spindle fibers and neurons

Electrons repeat on the skein, loop in their circuit, strange and funny

Projections of the self, shuttled forward and backward, upside down through time

Lowly little worms emerging from the cocoon, butterflies with horns

Chrysalis in the milk-weed, monarchs in the street dressed in silk, burnt orange

Soft winds returning, lilac scents my garden, warm rains after winter

#Poetry

#Haiku

#Senryu

#Tanka

#Haibun

Saint Stephen

The prophet promised help, a song of hope floating in the morning light

love for the dandelion

Lilies blooming in the broken asphalt, begging to be considered

broken birds, with wings made of wishes

Saint Stephen by a chest full of arrows, got pinioned to a tree

while a thousand sparrows gathered in his branches

Garden ponds and baths gone dry, water stolen by the sun

cats cry at empty basins, biting at their fleas

Forgive them…the hungry and the homeless, living through the heat and cold

the lean dogs wandering the city

blessed are the meek

#Poetry

#Haiku

#Senryu

#Tanka

#Haibun

#TheBookofSparrows

Presidents Day – Monday, February 15th, 2021

Presidents are human beings.

They have all been men (so far), flawed men; everyone who has ever held the office has been flawed. Some have had heroic attributes, but all of them have had craven moments.

There have only been forty-six them, and we have just lived through the chaotic and criminal presidency of the 45th, ending with his second impeachment after a failed and hapless insurrection that he waged in a desperate and feeble bid to retain power, or simply to assuage his mad vanity…

Today the occupant of the oval office is a long serving government official, former Senator and former Vice President, the oldest man ever elected to the office, Joseph R. Biden, and it seems like he wants to do some good for the people of this country, which would be nice for a change since the government is meant to be there to work for us…all of us.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, a catastrophe that we have been struggling through for over a year; nearly half a million Americans have died from it, in large part do to the rank incompetence of the 45th President.

There is a lot of work ahead of us, and I do not know if we are up to it, but at least we have a President who understands that it is his task to hold us all-together while we try to get the work done.

We have a President who seems interested in doing more than simply manage the moment in front of us; his team, which includes the first woman to hold the office of Vice President, his team is looking past the pandemic, they are looking forward to the job of rebuilding our country, of redefining the American experience, of making the American Dream a reality that includes everyone, lifts the spirits of everyone, distributes what is just and good to everyone, cares for everyone, and leaves no-one behind.

We can do this; we can do it if we have the political will to push our elected representatives to do the right thing.

I for one am grateful that we have a new President, a hopeful President, but our problems go well beyond the ability of one man to fix, just as they go well beyond the scope of one man’s depravity.

Keep hope alive!

Frank Herbert – Author, Hero

I was fifteen years old the first time I read Dune. I had been an avid since I was eight years old when I began reading novels in the third grade, and I read the books that inspired me over and over again.

I read all kinds of things, but at the age of fifteen I read mostly fiction, and that age when I first read Dune in 1984, I found it to be somewhat dense and challenging.

I had taken that first copy from the carousel of the library at the alternative high-school I was attending, and which I dropped out of a few month later. I read that copy, perhaps not as carefully as I should, but as carefully as I could, and I went to see the motion picture when it came out in 1985.

Needless to say, I found David Lynch’s adaptation to be one of the worst movies ever made, and with that Dune passed from my thoughts for a time.

However, in the summer of 1988 I was visiting a friend in Montana, and I picked up a copy of Dune from the bookstore in Bigfork. I needed something to read on the bus ride home to Minneapolis.

Four years had passed since my first go at it, and my window on the world had opened wide enough for me to be able to engage the book in a completely different way. I was hooked. I was nineteen years old.

Dune changed my life.

Since then I have read Dune and all six books in the original Dune series, eight times over, as well as everything else Frank Herbert wrote.

He was a giant.

I have given away dozens of copies of Dune throughout my life, and recommended it to more people than I can count, always with the words this book will change your life.

Many of them came back to me to tell me that it did.

Frank Herbert wrote science fiction, but the science he wrote into his fiction had less to do with spaceships and laser beams (though it had those things), and more to do with the science of politics, religion, ecology and psychology, with the human person at the center of his imagination.

Through his insight Herbert challenges the reader to explore what it means to be human, and he asks open-ended questions about the range of human potential in a way that allows the reader to believe in those possibilities for themselves, and his own view of the range of human potential is inspiring. He believe that we can do more, be more, see more of the world than our senses allow…if we are disciplined he believes we can do it; if we are attentive to the world around us, and if we cultivate within ourselves the desire to live a life without fear we will secure a future for humanity beyond our solar system and spread through the galaxy.

He died thirty-nine years ago today, and when he passed a heroic light left the world.

Observation – February 6th, 2021, Saturday

It is cold outside, but the sun is shining

The sky is striped, blue and white

I can feel the cold coming, seeping through the windows

The sun’s light through wavey glass

Snow clings to the limbs of my tree

Each flake a tiny prism from which the sun light leaps

And there is hope, today in America…there is hope

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church

When I finally made it to the university, I went to a school named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, named for Saint Thomas Aquinas; I studied philosophy there, as well as theology and the classics.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the river bluffs nearby. The moment I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

My time at this school was reasonably well spent. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, and I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as our Patron Saint, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas in than for the conclusions that he made.

Saint Thomas bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle et al, and the proto-renaissance period of Western Europe, re-discovering the use of intellectual tools like such as formal logic and discursive reasoning, and re-employing them in a way that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today.

Saint Thomas was Italian by birth and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there, fully cognizant of his fame, knowing that he would become a saint of great renown, they coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, a silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

On his death bed it is reported that he gave an estimation of the value of his own contribution to the doctrine and dogma of the church, of which he said: everything is just straw.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, the same arches that I first walked through my first day on campus, two stories below the offices of the Philosophy Department. I recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God

That I may ardently desire,

Prudently examine,

Truthfully acknowledge,

And perfectly accomplish

What is pleasing to thee

For the praise and glory

Of thy name

In the year 2021 CE, seven hundred and forty-seven after the death of Saint Thomas, the world has become enmired in another kind of dark ages, which is odd and sadly ironic because the current tide of anti-rational, anti-intellectual sentiment that has griped the world has been seeded through the prevalence of digital media platforms that are in themselves a function of our mastery of light, as a means of communication.

We now find ourselves leaving in a cultural milieu that disdains the truth, scientia, science and knowledge, which undermines place of reason in public discourse.

In Western Europe the so-called dark ages are considered to have begun around the year 500 CE, with the reign of the emperor Justinian, roughly the same length of time seven hundred and fifty years after the golden age of the philosophers, and roughly seven hundred and fifty years before Saint Thomas wrote his Summa.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently ominous in the pattern I have articulated, the numbers themselves are arbitrary and it would be unreasonable to suppose otherwise. However, we would be wise to acknowledge this, the descent of darkness has a cycle all of its own. We have fallen into this before and we are susceptible to falling into it again, once we have fallen, it could take centuries to emerge back into the light.

Ursula K. Le Guinn – Author, Hero

It has been three years since this great woman and thinker moved on to the next world; she was a hero of mine.

The first book of hers I read was a novella titled The Lathe of Heaven, a science fiction book, but it was so much more. Through this short piece she spoke to me about the nature of reality, the function of consciousness, of what it means to be a human being.

She took the title from the writings of the Taoist, Chuang Tzu (book 23, paragraph 7):

To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do so will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven ~

Her book, which both dramatized this sentiment and recapitulated this warning took me outside of myself and allowed me to see the whole-world in a different way.

I was fifteen years old at the time, and without realizing it I found that I had been introduced to Taoism (the esoteric tradition), which provided me with a perspective that would subsequently shape the future course of my life.

I read many other books and articles written by this great lady. When I was in the Navy I found great comfort in the Earth Sea Chronicles, a series of four books in which she introduced a hero whose greatest enemy was himself, but not himself exactly; his enemy was the specter and shadow of guilt that most, if not all, human beings carry with them, because we are unable to ask for and accept forgiveness for the things we have done that have hurt or harmed those near to us, even their adversaries, because we are not able to forgive ourselves.

These books were so simple and brief that they could really be seen as fairytales for children to read, and indeed they can be read on that level, but her stories were so masterfully crafted that adults will find them even more engaging for the depth that is present right below the surface.   

Three years ago this great luminaries departed from our world, leaving a legacy of literature to light the way for us.

We need this light more than ever; if we liken our civilization to a garden the garden we live in has been long under shadow. The fruit of our progress has been drying on the vine, fellowship and common purpose have suffered accordingly. We need these heroes, women and men like Ursula Le Guinn to light the way, to bring us to the edge of the cloud of unknowing, to usher us into the mysteries that are hidden in the mist.

Observation – January 6th, 2021, Wednesday

It is cloudy in Minneapolis, a gray day in America

The capital is occupied by terrorists, insurrectionists

A coup de etat is being attempted in America

Shots fired at the capital

A woman rolls past the cameras on a gurney

Her face bloodied, gravely injured

Terrorists have occupied the floor of the House

The Senate chamber is under their control

Trump supporters flying Trump flags wearing Trump hats

A bunch of brown shirts, chickens come home to roost

The mob is fighting the capital police

Reports of flash bang grenades

The final process of ratifying the presidential election has been upended

The clock is ticking, they have five days to complete their work