From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve: Watch Night for many

John Wesley (Painting by George Romney)
Just as Advent evokes images of a pivotal “Coming” – so, too, does New Year’s Eve.

The turning of the calendar year reminds many of the need for spiritual attentiveness.  Back in 1733, the Moravians (a Protestant denomination that Wikipedia claims “places a high premium on Christian unity, personal piety, missions, and music”) held what is believed to be the first Watch Night gathering.  The African American Lectionary reports that John Wesley, “founder of the Methodist movement,” was so taken
with this Watch Night idea that he “incorporated it into Methodism as a time for Methodists to renew their covenant with God and to contemplate their state of grace in light of the second coming of Christ.”  

Believing that “all Christians should reaffirm their covenant with God annually,” Wesley began holding Watch Night Services every New Year’s Eve.  To keep the momentum going, he also held monthly, four-hour Watch Night services on the Fridays nearest the times of the full-moon.  According to Wikipedia, these Watch Night Services (aka “Covenant Renewal Services”) also “provided Methodist Christians with a godly alternative to times of drunken revelry…”  They remain part of The United Methodist Book of Worship - and today include
“singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, as well as scripture readings…” reports that the first such United States service took place “in 1770 at Old St. George’s Church
in Philadelphia.”  Rev. P. Kimberleigh Jordan writes in The Huffington Post that Richard Allen (who later
founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination) and Absalom Jones (who later founded
the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas) were both members of that Old St. George’s congregation.

Jordan also reports on two, especially-prominent, African American Watch Night themes.  On New Year’s Eve of 1862, “enslaved Africans gathered to await the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation…”  Since then, Watch Night has been particularly equated with “an act of God resonant with the biblical Exodus.”  An equally-strong African American Watch Night tradition has its roots in the traumatic uncertainty of living in bondage.  Since it was believed that slave owners would want to settle their debts by selling slaves on New Year’s Day, slaves were unsure whether they would fellowship with their loved ones ever again.  Jordan therefore emphasizes that Watch Night “was an opportunity to step faithfully into the unknown…”  as expressed by the well-known spiritual, This May Be the Last Time.    


Copyright December 31, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 30, 2011

Seventh Day in Samoa: Sabbath times two

Samoa on the Globe (by TUBS)
If you had plans for December 30th in Samoa this year, you’re out of luck.  The Associated Press reports that “at the stroke of midnight” on December 29, 2011, time in Samoa and neighboring Tokelau will “leap forward to Dec. 31 – New Year’s Eve.”   This is being done in order to better align International Date Line calendar dates with those of Australia
and New Zealand since these countries are now “increasingly important trading partners.”

Although this time shift will be marked by prayer services and the ringing of church bells throughout the “devoutly Christian nation” of Samoa, not all churches are in favor of skipping a Friday.  The Seventh Day Adventist Church in Samatu “has
indicated a major problem for its congregation” because Friday night is when its Sabbath begins.  If Friday were to suddenly become Saturday, then Saturday would just as suddenly become Sunday.  The Sabbath would therefore be observed on a Sunday rather than on a Saturday.

The “Fundamental Beliefs” section of, the “official website of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” states this:  The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation.  The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath.    

No mention of “Saturday” here…

However, the “What Adventists Believe” section of the same website had this to say:  God loves you, and
wants to spend time with you personally, one on one, as two close friends…  The seventh day (Saturday) is an extra-special part of the relationship.  The Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, describes the seventh day as the one day God has set aside for focused fellowship with His people.  God has named that day “Sabbath” and asked us to spend it with Him.  

Note that God has named that day “Sabbath” rather than “Saturday”…   

Nevertheless, a controversy exists amongst churches (as well as amongst denominations and religions) as to which day is the “real” Sabbath.  After this latest calendar adjustment, Seventh-day Adventists in Samoa
will be divided as to when the Sabbath will be honored.  Some will adhere to their traditional Saturdays, whereas many will change over to Sundays.


Copyright December 30, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Overview Effect: A Declaration of Interdependence

Edgar Dean Mitchell (an Overviewer)
“On Earth as it is in Heaven” takes on a whole different meaning
after glimpsing the Earth from the heavens.  Some of the 500 or so people who have thus far journeyed through space utilize this quote from Socrates to help describe their experience:  Humanity must rise above the earth, to the top of the atmosphere and beyond. 
For only then will we understand the world in which we live.

This new type of understanding is now being called the “Overview
Effect” - a term coined by Frank White, whose book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, was first published in 1987.  This effect “refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space” – from which perspective “national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.”

The Overview Effect is therefore not an intellectual exercise, but
rather a raising of consciousness that is powerful enough to create
a direct awareness of cosmic interdependence.  White calls it “a
message from the universe to humanity” – and adds that those who have heard it “must now become Overviewers… and manifest its implications in our own lives.”

Short of booking a Virgin Galactic flight (or attaining nirvana, whichever comes first), how can everyday folks zap into this borderless state of cosmic consciousness?  The answer lies right in front of a multitude of computer-glazed eyeballs – it’s the Internet that will provide glimpses of what Earth looks like through high-speed galactic Windows.

MSNBC’s Photoblog presents a 2011 Holiday calendar: Peace over Earth in order to provide ordinary earthlings with such glimpses.  Included in these offerings are Santa’s flight path, the Solstice tilt, Hanukkah above Jerusalem, Santa Lucia above Sicily, a psychedelic storm, a lunar eclipse, and the Hajj masses in Mecca.

There now – is all the holiday stress shrinking into a blip on the cosmic screen?  If so – you, too, may soon be an Overviewer…


Copyright December 29, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gluttony: The latest damning evidence

Depiction of Gluttony (by Hieronymus Bosch)
Throughout history, many have warned against the
practice of stuffing one’s body with food.  Science is
now proving that gluttony is deadly, but religionists
have known that right along.

Gluttony (gastrimargia) was right up there on the list
of eight evil thoughts that was composed (in Greek,
no less) by the 4th-century Desert Father monk,
Evagrius Ponticus.  Mostly thanks to the writings of another Desert Father, John Cassian - gluttony not only retained its primary spot on the “what not to do” list, but also received a new Latin name (gula - later grouped with “fornication” and “avarice” and collectively renamed “lustful appetite” in English).

Almost two centuries passed before Pope Gregory I came up with his own list of Seven Deadly Sins (which
was very much like the previous lists, but no one minded since plagiarism was apparently not nearly as deadly).  On his list, luxuria (which isn’t as luxurious as it sounds) leads gula by a hair.  Dante, in turn, was so inspired by this latest list that he morphed it into a Divine Comedy gula and all.  According to both Pope Gregory I and St. Thomas Aquinas, gluttony can be committed in “five ways to Sunday” – these being laute (eating exotic food), nimis (eating excessive quantitites), studiose (making elaborate food preparations), praepropere (eating at inappropriate times), and ardenter (eating too eagerly).

Over seven more centuries passed before scientists came out with this supportive research.  The AFP reports that “a strict diet may save the brain from the ravages of age.”  This statement is based upon “a study of mice that were fed a diet of about 70 percent of the food they normally consumed.”  Italian scientists discovered that this “calorie-restricted diet triggered a protein molecule, CREB1, that activates a host of genes linked to longevity and good brain function.”  Previous researchers had also discovered that non-gluttonous (and possibly ascetic) mice “showed better cognitive abilities and memory, less aggression, and tended to avoid or delay Alzheimer’s disease.”


Copyright December 28, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Yoga teacher: 91 and stretching

Yogi sculpture (Photo: Deepak)
Bernice Bates is making headlines these days - not because she’s young and firm, but because she’s old and flexible.

Fifty years ago, she was flexible enough to take up the practice of yoga, and she hasn’t stopped since.  In her own words to  Yoga gives you flexibility like you’ve never had before, and it  makes you healthy because you’re working on the whole body, inside and out.  

And not just the body, either.  Bates is a Methodist who believes that “her decades of physical activity have only added” to her strong faith.  She explains it this way to  It gives you a good outlook.  It involves your mind.  Your mind, your body and your spirit.  They all work together and they’re all coordinated.  

Which is her way of saying that the very word “Yoga” means “yoke” (from the Sanskrit root yug, meaning “to join, to unite, to attach”)…  Although yoga can help to make you feel like you’re half your age, the original goal of this ancient discipline was “the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility…”

Wikipedia reports that this lofty goal necessitated a great deal of self-discipline (i.e. “the ‘yoke’ that one puts upon oneself for the purpose of attaining moksha”).  Some also interpret the original Vedic meaning of yoga to include a harnessing of the lower self to the higher one.  A sense of “exertion, endeavor, zeal, diligence” was later added, as well as a Buddhist emphasis on “the cessation of mental activity.”

Bates, on the other hand (or foot, elbow, knee, etc.), tends to follow a broader yogic philosophy.  She tells Lisa Flam of that yoga is “for everybody,” and then explains:  There’s thousands of postures.  You can pick and choose.  You do what you can. 

Bates not only practices what she preaches, but also teaches what she preaches.  She currently leads a
weekly class within her retirement community.  Most of her students are in their 60s and 70s, and several 
are in their 80s and 90s. 


Copyright December 27, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 


Monday, December 26, 2011

War Horse: Or is it war on horses?

Napoleon Bonaparte (Painting by J. L. David)
The Christmas Day release of War Horse in United States
theaters brings to mind other recent horse-related news.

On December 18, 2011, The Oakland Press published an article titled “Emotions soar after Congress lifts horse
slaughter ban.”  The article contains this vivid description of how horses have often been slaughtered:  Typically, horses were rendered unconscious by a captive bolt gun or blow to the center of the forehead.  They were then hung with hind legs shackled, and their jugular was severed before being exsanguinated (bled out).  Sadly, not all died instantaneously and many were known to suffer unimaginable, inhumane deaths as they remained conscious during dismemberment. 

Tragically, horses have also been collateral victims of human wars.  Michael Morpurgo, author of the original War Horse children’s novel, drew upon accounts of horse brutality that were told to him by British veterans of World War I.  Wikipedia reports that “a million horses died on the British side,” and there was likely “an overall figure of 10 million horse deaths on all sides.”  World War I horses “were used for cavalry, and as draught animals, pulling guns, ambulances and other vehicles.”

Prior to World War I, Napoleon Bonaparte’s military horsepower was known as “the most remarkable cavalry force in history.”  In her treatise about Napoleon’s “horse of a different color” Marengo, author Jill Hamilton writes:  Napoleon was an intrepid rider who usually rode stallions…  even at breakneck speed no obstacle worried him.  Although Napoleon had some humane equestrian tendencies (such as
forbidding his soldiers to cut the tails of their horses) and believed that horses have “memory, knowledge, and love,” his battlefield strategies were ruthless. 

As did his hero, Alexander the Great, Napoleon exploited the natural herd instincts of horses.  Both leaders knew all too well that “when one horse charged the rest followed.”  Hamilton describes this scene from Napoleon’s decisive battle against the Turks at Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, Egypt:  Horses, already hit, blood pouring from their bellies, kept galloping, bursting their hearts to keep pace with the horses beside them.  Due to this cavalry strategy, the French won the battle (even though they were initially outnumbered by more than two to one).  However, Hamilton reports that “thousands of men and horses perished.”

Horses haven’t always been the recipient of human abuse.  In fact, horses have also been worshipped by
Indo-European and Turkic peoples.  Wikipedia reports that in Gallo-Roman religion, the goddess Epona was “a protector of horses, donkeys, and mules.”  The name “Epona” means “Great Mare” in the Gaulish language.  Rhiannon (“a prominent figure in Welsh mythology”) is often shown riding a white horse, and is sometimes identified as “a horse goddess cognate to Gaulish Epona…”       


Copyright December 26, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Famous Christmas birthdays

Isaac Newton at 46 (Portrait by Kneller)
Some celebrities with the distinction of being born on Christmas Day seem to have taken that honor quite seriously.

Leading the pack, at would-be age 368, is Sir Isaac Newton.  Newton, who is mostly known for harvesting apples from the ground (while transforming the science of physics), was also an enthusiastic theologian.  That is to say, he wasn’t only interested in the universe – but also in its Creator.  According to Wikipedia, Newton “wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the
literal interpretation of the Bible.”  (However, many of his Antitrinitarian views were kept private since they would have been considered heretical by orthodox standards.)  Although “Newton” and “gravity” were practically synonymous for years, he also had this to say:  Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.  God governs
all things and knows all that is or can be done.

Then there was Pope Pius VI, born a mere 75 years after Newton.  He has the distinction of reigning longer than practically any other pope (for 24 years, 6 months and 15 days – surpassed in this regard only by Leo XIII, John Paul II, Pius IX, and most likely St. Peter).  He also stood up to no less than Napoleon Bonaparte after Italy was invaded by France.  Because Pope Pius VI refused to renounce his temporal authority, he was taken prisoner and died soon afterwards.

Believe it or not, Robert LeRoy Ripley was also born on Christmas Day.  In many ways, his own life was as extraordinary as his research findings.  Ever wonder how The Star Spangled Banner became America’s national anthem?  It had a lot to do with the 1929 Ripley cartoon caption:  “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem.”  However, Ripley’s focus went way beyond nationalism.  Along with such radio-show guests as self-made, conservative, “God is My Partner” R. G. LeTourneau, Ripley promoted “a classically evangelical vision of a good society built on the relationship between each individual and God.”


Copyright December 25, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Miley Cyrus: Curses and blessings

The Beatitudes Sermon (by James Tissot)

During a September 2011 interview with Prestige magazine, Miley Cyrus spoke frankly about her difficulties with being in the public eye 24/7.  She didn’t discredit her popularity, yet explained:  I’ve obviously been very blessed, but with every blessing there’s a curse. 

One of the “curses” quite literally occurred during her recent
vacation in Costa Rica.  The Nation reports that she and boyfriend Liam Hemsworth were vacationing in Costa Rica “when a group of fans approached them for photos and  autographs…”  After cordially complying, Miley had to get going.  At that point, one of the group cursed at her.  Miley’s initial reaction was to curse back.  The incident yielded international headlines and viral videos.  Miley later “defended her actions via Twitter” and wrote:  I can’t tolerate that kind of rudeness.

For the record, few people can. 

And yet, some of the most famous biblical passages sound like this:  Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:28)…  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)…   A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11)…   Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong; but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else (1 Thessalonians 5:15)      

These quotes are not meant to be finger-pointing jabs at any one of us, but rather reminders to many of us that loving thy enemy is central to the Christmas message.  But how can we humans accomplish this feat – especially when it often seems difficult enough to act loving with friends and family?

Practicing this skill (and it is – at least in part – a skill that can be developed) can help.  Doing good to those who hate you and praying for those who mistreat you are not signs of weakness – but are rather signs of ultimate strength.


Copyright December 24, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 23, 2011

Famous Christmas deaths

(View from Elisabeth Petrovna's mirror)
Being born on Christmas Day is often looked upon as an honor.  Logic might then dictate that dying on this day could be viewed as quite the opposite.  Ironically, the deaths of three historical leaders who were known for their persecution of religious minorities occurred on Christmas Day.

First there was Pope Adrian I.  True, he had his problems.  Shortly after his accession, the papal territory was invaded.  Adrian I had to beseech Charlemagne for help with this situation.  After Charlemagne successfully quelled the invasion (and then some), he and Adrian I remained on friendly terms despite their differences regarding the veneration of images (Charlemagne: strongly against,
Adrian I:  okay with).  In fact, Wikipedia reports that Adrian I was so okay with the veneration of images that he anathematized “all who refused to venerate the images of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, or saints.”

Then there was Elisabeth Petrovna, Empress of Russia for over 20 years (being the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I didn’t hurt her resume any).  When she wasn’t primping in front of the mirror or showing off the results to Count Razumovsky, she managed to do a fairly good job of running the empire.  For example, Wikipedia reports that she abstained “from executing a single person during her reign.”  However, her compassion did not seem to embrace religious minorities.  History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Volume I by Dubnow, Dubnow and Friedlaender reports on Petrovna’s assiduous practice of religious intolerance.  Muslims and Jews were especially targeted.  Mosques were destroyed,
and Jews “were expelled with one hand and pushed into the doors of the church with the other.”

During the more recent past, there was Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s General Secretary of the Communist Party and long-term head of state.  Wikipedia reports that his first decade in power was marked “by an open policy towards Western Europe and the United States,” and his second decade “was characterized by an increasingly brutal and repressive regime.”  The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada reported in 1990 that Ceausescu had stated that “backwardness, superstition and religion had no place within the ideal of Communist Society.”   In keeping with this stance, Ceausescu kept a tight rein on “admissions to seminaries, the construction of churches and the distribution of religious materials.”


Copyright December 23, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Frankincense: Frankly, it's long past time to regift

Although mankind has been literally milking Boswellia (from which frankincense is derived) for millennia, not much has been done to repay the favor.  Frankly, if this trend continues, the precious gift of frankincense might be forever relegated to history.

Reuters reports that the “number of Boswellia trees could
decline by 90% in the next 50 years due to unchecked “fire,
grazing and insect attack.”  This decline is happening so fast that production of frankincense “could be halved over the next 15 years.”  Wikipedia reports that frankincense is
obtained by “slashing the bark, which is called striping, and
allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden.”  These
hardened resins are (appropriately enough) called “tears.”

A few such tears just aren’t enough.  The same trees are tapped two and three times a year.  Often the final taps (rhymes with “spinal taps”) are considered to have the best quality tears.  The tears of trees that sprout from rock in the most unforgiving of environments are the ones most highly valued.  (Were they brought to the Christ child as a foreshadowing of the harshness that He, too, would encounter?)

Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr., who wrote both the words and melody of We Three Kings of Orient
Are, stressed the priestly aspect of frankincense in his lyrics.  Hopkins described this gift from the Magi with these words:  Frankincense to offer have I   Incense owns a Deity nigh   Prayer and praising, all men raising   Worship Him, God most high.   

Certainly, the precious gift of frankincense deserves some sort of loving reciprocity.  Reuters reminds us that it’s not yet too late for this.  Incentives can be offered “to ensure farmers work harder to protect Boswellia trees.”  More can be done to prevent fires and beetle attacks, and large areas could be “set aside and protected for five to 10 years to allow Boswellia saplings to become established.”

It’s well past the time to repay these giving trees for all the precious tears that they’ve shed on our behalf.


Copyright December 22, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christian Scientologists: Is that like Christian Scientists?

Christian Science Mother Church (Bcorr)
As Scientologist Juliette Lewis told Vanity Fair interviewer Eric Spitznagel in December 2010, Scientologists can and do celebrate Christmas.

During this same interview, Lewis asserted:  I’m a Christian!  I think there’s so much confusion because people don’t understand a religion where you can be another religion… 
That’s why it’s completely progressive.  It’s just tools for
living…  Lewis then attributed the “funny folklore” that is associated with Scientology (such as that concerning reincarnated alien ancestors) to the confusing of L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction with his theology.  She later concluded:   You could be a Jewish Scientologist or a Buddhist Scientologist or a Christian Scientologist or anything else.  (Perhaps, but would this be in keeping with Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and/or “anything else” theology?)

A peek into the Cruise family’s Christmas might help to clarify the “progressive” nature of their faith.  On the
one hand, it’s Christmas as usual:  hanging together, playing games, having a “really nice, quiet time.”  On the other hand, Suri Cruise’s Christmas wish list contains $130,000 worth of gifts - all of which she will reportedly receive from her parents.  (Is this in keeping with “the policy of equal justice for all” from The Code of a Scientologist – point 9?)

Contrasting this approach with that of Christian Science becomes a relatively easy task. reports that many Christian Scientists emphasize Thanksgiving far more than Christmas.  In fact, “The Church of Christ, Scientist, is the only denomination in the United States that observes Thanksgiving as a religious holiday, one marked by church services, specially published Bible lessons, and personal healing testimonials.”  This harkens back to Mary Baker Eddy’s “emphasis on gratitude.”  As for Christmas?  Here is the final statement from Eddy’s What Christmas Means to Me essay:  Material gifts and pastimes tend
to obliterate the spiritual idea in consciousness, leaving one alone and without His glory.


Copyright December 21, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved