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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Saint Athanasius: To praise God tunefully

Saint Athanasius (Public Domain)
Saint Athanasius I of Alexandria is considered to be a Great Doctor of both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.  Protestants call him "Father of the Canon."

He authored a number of works which are still in existence today. Perhaps the most famous is his biography of Anthony the Great (a Desert Father leader), which helped monasticism to spread throughout Western Europe.  Some of the works are epistles, such as his well-known Letter of St. Athanasius to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms.

In this letter to Marcellinus (a physically-ill, but spiritually-strong friend), Athanasius waxes eloquently about the Psalms (which both correspondents have been devotedly studying).  Athanasius introduces the topic by stating that a "certain studious old man" had once taught him much about the Psalter.  He then proceeds to pass this "old man's"
(whom many think is Athanasius himself) wisdom on to Marcellinus.

One of Athanasius' main points is that the Psalms were meant to be sung.  He quotes from James 5:13 in support of this practice:  Is any among you happy?  Let him sing!  Nevertheless, the "old man" cautions:  Holy Scripture is not designed to tickle the aesthetic palate, and it is rather for the soul's own profit
that the Psalms are sung.

Saint Athanasius goes on to explain that "the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit…"  "To praise God tunefully" should therefore reflect "a peaceful and well-ordered heart" rather than an entertaining display of personal artistry.


Copyright December 31, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pizza Hut now Ark: Hold the cheese

(Public Domain Photo)
What was once somewhat a "den of iniquity" by Seventh-day Adventist dietary standards is currently undergoing an intense transformation.

That is to say, the former Pizza Hut of Lewiston, Maine will now be known as The Ark.  This new establishment will forsake pepperoni in favor of an all-vegan menu.  It will be operated by the Northern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and will offer Saturday services, Bible studies, counseling - plus "classes in herbs, parenting, vegetarian and vegan cooking."  A future vegan restaurant is also on the agenda.

Wikipedia reports that "wholeness and health have  been an emphasis of the Adventist church" since it began in the 1860s.   Dr. John Harvey Kellogg - a Seventh-day Adventist (until mid-life) whose medical patients included William Howard Taft, George Bernard Shaw, Johnny Weissmuller, Lowell Thomas and Amelia Earhart – once directed the Adventist-owned Battle Creek Sanitarium (and co-invented corn flakes in his spare time).  Kellogg's advocacy for vegetarianism, along with his staunch insistence about the relationship between diet and health, fit right in with the Adventist teachings (although his alleged pantheistic views did not – which is why he was eventually "disfellowshipped").

Some of the theological Seventh-day Adventist teachings are as follows:  Christians should still adhere to the Ten Commandments; the Sabbath should be observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (i.e., the seventh day); the writings of Ellen White are considered to be prophetic messages; rather than suffer eternal torture in hell, the wicked will be permanently destroyed; and there is a "Great Controversy" between God and Satan that affects humans.  


Copyright December 30, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Goldie Hawn: Meditation like brushing teeth

(Public Domain)
When asked about the secret to her "rockin'" body at age 67, Goldie Hawn didn't emphasize her "good diet" or "solid exercise routine" to Prevention Magazine.  Instead, she heralded her daily meditation practice (since the 70s) as being "the biggest key to her youthful vibe."

Strongly believing that "spirituality [as opposed to a particular religion] creates well-being, health and happiness," Hawn has devoted the last ten years to not only doing her own practices, but also teaching them to others.  Access Hollywood reports that she has been helping to "bring meditation into the classroom" through The Hawn Foundation's MindUP Program.

The Hawn Foundation website describes the MindUP Program as being "anchored in current research in cognitive neuroscience, evidence-based classroom pedagogy, best-practices mindful education, precepts of social and emotional learning (SEL), and guiding principles of positive psychology."  It features a curriculum that develops "students' skills in focusing their attention" on "what they sense and feel."

Goldie Hawn assures people that meditation is not something "woo-woo" far out.  She advises:  Think of meditation… as an everyday task, like brushing your teeth.


Copyright December 29, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 28, 2012

Berrigan's bread: Theological alchemy

(Photo by Milad Mosapoor)
Peace activist Daniel Berrigan, SJ once wrote these lines:  Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives.  Hope you might have baked it or bought it–or even kneaded it yourself…  He goes on to surmise that if every
theologian were to work part time in a bread line, then his/her words might transmute "like stones into bread."

Berrigan certainly knows whereof he postulates.  A Jesuit priest since 1952 and a theology teacher since 1954, this walker of the talk has more than peeked behind academic fences.  Nevertheless, he has also long sought to grind intellectual stones into flour power for the hungry masses.  One way he has accomplished this is through poetry.  His first book of verse, Time Without Number, was a 1957 Lamont Poetry Selection.

However, Berrigan's living biography has been his greatest work of art.  In between poems, he has managed to alter the dynamics between priests and laypersons, to work tirelessly for the poor, to play key roles within the peace movement, to team up with other members of the Catonsville Nine and the Ploughshares Eight, and to be one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives from 1968 to 1970 (due to his involvement in certain anti-Vietnam War protests).

These days, Berrigan is living within a New York City Jesuit house.  Still actively supporting social justice movements, he is no doubt breaking bread and kneading it as always.  

Copyright December 28, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snow Goose: Capricorn totem

Snow Geese (Photo by Cephas)
Those whose birthdays fall sometime during the period of December 22nd through January 19th are often astrologically referred to as Capricorns.

According to, Capricorns are "all about hard work."  This fits right in with their other two predominant characteristics:  ambition and determination.  Life to them can be "one big project" that is handled in a "businesslike" manner. Playing it safe (not flouting convention) is another way in which Capricorns climb that social ladder toward "fame, prestige and money."  This upward
tendency has long been symbolized by the Goat which ascends to the rugged mountain peaks.

Native Americans have also associated the Snow Goose with those born at the Capricorn time of year.  According to, "Native Americans throughout time have held sacred the connection between nature, animal, and man."  Native American astrology teaches that the "birth animal totem" is the "animal spirit that you were born under."

Some of the Snow Goose astrological attributes are as follows:  banding together for the greater good, defending home and family, practicality, materialism, physical travel, spiritual quests, perfectionism and success.  The "ultimate lesson" of the Snow Goose" is the need to balance material and physical aims with
spiritual and emotional connections."


Copyright December 27, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Help, Thanks, Wow: Anne Lamott's Uncommon Book of Prayer

(Author: Bastique)  
While walking the corridors of nursing homes, I often hear residents calling for help.  It never crossed my mind that they are, in essence,
praying until I read these words from Anne Lamott's latest bookIt is all hopeless. Even for a crabby optimist like me, things couldn't be worse.  Everywhere you turn, our lives and marriages and morale and government are falling to pieces…  Help.  Help us walk through this.  Help us come through.  It is the first great prayer.

Yet is it not selfish to "bother" God about our personal needs?  Lamott does not think so.  In a November 2012 interview with NPR, she states that it's "God's job" to offer help – especially to those who lean upon "a power great than themselves" or upon "something in the next concentric circle out whose name is not me."

In Lamott's estimation, the prayerful connection does not end there.  Just as we often forget to thank people for all that they do and are, we forget to thank God for the same.  Lamott's second great prayer therefore goes like this:  Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.  (And if this mantra seems difficult to remember, a simple heartfelt "Thanks!" will suffice...)

Last (and perhaps most) comes "Wow!"  Lamott's version of this exclamation comes in response to the
"sheer beauty of creation."  It is the "prayer of wonder" – wonder at such things as sky, trees, birds, babies, and fjords.

So there you have it:  Help - Thanks - Wow!  Life's holy chant distilled into three profound syllables…


Copyright December 26, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Island: Creation's haven

CIA Map of Christmas Island (Public Domain)
Contrary to popular opinion, Christmas Island is not primarily populated by Christians.  The CIA World Factbook states that in 1997 it was 36% Buddhist, 25% Muslim, 21% Other, and only 18% Christian.  However, on Christmas Day of 1643, Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company happened to be sailing past this "quadrilateral" dab of terra firma in the midst of the great Indian Ocean.  Hence the name…

Wikipedia reports that the island's 1,403 human
residents live in settlements on the northern tip.
Their ethnicities are as follows: 70% Chinese, 20% European, and 10% Malay.  They no doubt enjoy the tropical climate and dramatic vistas of their paradisiacal surroundings.  Nevertheless, it is their non-human neighbors that benefit the most.

Because Christmas Island is quite isolated (e.g. more than a thousand miles from its current "mother ship" Australia), it was uninhabited by people until late in the 19th century.  Therefore, it hosts "many unique species of fauna and flora… which have evolved independently of human interference."  There remain at least 18 plant species which can be found nowhere else on earth.  The island's forest is "the only nesting habitat of the Abbott's Booby [an endangered seabird] left in the world."  The Christmas Frigatebird [also endangered] nests on the north-eastern shore terraces.  Other animals – such as the Christmas Island Flying Fox, the giant gecko, and the pink blind snake - are also endemic to this special place.

Two-thirds of the island is now a national park - dedicated to the preservation of unique wildlife.  In a very real sense, Christmas Island has become a haven for God's precious Creation.


Copyright December 25, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 24, 2012

Newtown: Acts of Kindness

(Painting by Jacques-Louis David, 1781)
There are many who have asked – not only about Newtown, but about all horrific events – where God was at the time.  How could an all-loving, all-knowing God allow such evil to occur?

This is a question that has been wrestled with
throughout the ages.  There is no one definitive
answer that we humans have been privy to – at
least not one that we all agree upon. Nevertheless,
there have been signs that the God of Love exists in even the worst of circumstances.

From the depths of Newtown's despair came an
initiative that has been gathering momentum ever
since.  NBC's Ann Curry, the morning after a trip
What is the answer to such national suffering?  Call it creativity or call it holy intuition – in a flash an answer came:  What if?  Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for every one of those children killed in Newtown.

Curry then tweeted this idea and added the following:  I'm in.  RT if you're in.  The "inbox" began overflowing with good will.  People said, "Why stop at 20 acts of kindness?  Why not add six more in memory of the adult victims at the school?"  Some added an additional one for the killer's mother.  And - with an amazing display of grace - some even suggested including one for the killer himself because "he was struggling and in pain."

Acts of kindness have so far included the following:  food bank donations; gift cards taped to random fuel pumps; 100% tips to service workers; and shoveling the driveways of elderly neighbors without accepting
payment.  Children across the nation have donated their own "widow's mite" savings to offerings like these.  Those who are still asking "Where's God?" might find out through such Acts of their own.


Copyright December 24, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Penguins: South Pole's answer to Santa

(Photo by Stan Shebs)
Because it seems somewhat unfair for the North Pole to receive so much attention at Christmas time, God very graciously invented penguins.

These Antarctic denizens have long been associated with an idealized version of what humans ought to be.  In a review of the documentary March of the Penguins, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of Spirituality & Practice compare annually-migrating penguins to "pilgrims on a holy trek."  The Brussats also note that the seemingly playful waddling of penguins "draws out our maternal instincts."  They offer the following lessons about spiritual practice from their observations of these aquatic birds:  waddling slows things down enough "to savor all that is going on" in the immediate environment; ritual bowing within a courtship situation can enhance tenderness and respect; and play time is essential to a balanced life.

Holistic healer Phylameana lila Desy expands even further upon penguin analogies.  In her Penguin Totem posting she explains that the flightless penguin is an expert swimmer that is capable of a "swift" transition from water to land.  She states:  The penguin is able to leap out of the water and land on its feet.  Desy then concludes that the penguin totem "teaches connection between the physical and the spiritual."

However, Wikipedia also points out the all-too-human foibles that penguins are heir to.  Limited resources can stimulate agonistic ("social behavior relating to fighting") displays within a colony. The famed monogamy of these fine-feathered friends can be limited to the length of a breeding season.  And - when a mother loses her chick, she may attempt to steal that of another penguin.

Nevertheless, penguins and humans can sometimes be as benevolent as Santa.  It seems that life on this planet is generally a mixed bag of naughty and nice.      

Copyright December 23, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Church bells: For whom they toll

(Photo by Eleassar)
Church bells have been recently ringing out for the 26 victims of Newtown, Connecticut.  Such acoustic accompaniment of sacred and/or solemn occasions has been associated with the Christian Church for centuries.

Wikipedia reports that Paulinus of Nola (a contemporary of and indirect correspondent with Saint Augustine) first introduced formal
church bells in 400 C.E.  It took another 200 years for them to become officially sanctioned by Pope Sabinianus, who is credited by the great Italian historian Onofrio Panvinio with introducing "the custom of ringing bells at the canonical hours and the celebration of the Eucharist."  Church bells then especially caught on with the Irish missionaries (due to Celtic influences) of Northern Europe, and became prevalent throughout the European continent by the early Middle Ages.

In addition to signifying the hour or time, church bells have also been rung for special events such as weddings or funerals. Long before there was an MSN or a CNN, the pealing of bells informed citizens that an important gathering was about to occur.  Even within relatively recent times, church bells have played historic sociological roles.  Wikipedia explains that in Great Britain during World War II, "all church bells were silenced, to ring only to inform of an invasion by enemy troops."

The tolling (slow ringing) of a church bell to signify a death is also known as the "death knell" or the "passing bell."  Perhaps the most famous reference to this custom is from the poet John Donne.  He reminds us all that "no man is an island," then exhorts:  Therefore, send not to know  For whom the bell tolls,  It tolls for thee.


Copyright December 22, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 21, 2012

Interspiritual Age: Coming soon?

Blind Monks Examining an Elephant (Itcho print)
Because "Interspirituality" is a relatively new term, it is often mistaken for "Interfaith."  Rabbi Rami Shapiro explains that "Interfaith" is essentially "a conversation… between people fully ensconced in
their respective faiths" – whereas "Interspirituality"
compares religions to "the proverbial blind men
describing the elephant…" and instead aims for "the greater truth seeking to speak through the
diverse voice of the world's religions."

Yes - but is the world ready to stop confusing the faithful finger(s) pointing to the moon with the moon itself?  Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord seem to think that it almost is.

In their recent book The Coming Interspiritual Age, Johnson (a monastic turned evolutionary biologist) and Ord (a Presbyterian minister) contend that the Interspiritual Age is within historic reach.  Bernard Starr, contributor to The Huffington Post Blog, explains that this age will be "brought about by a confluence of world events, cultural changes, the technological revolution, and eight paradigm shifts that include 'undoing the bonds of loyalty to clan, nation, religion, and skin color…'"

Does this mean that every "blind man" will soon begin to "see" the exact same elephant?  Or that diversity will soon merge into one big "eye in the sky" philosophy? 

Not necessarily. 

Johnson and Ord are calling upon humans to retain diversity in all its richness - and yet to discover the unity within that diversity.


Copyright December 21, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bioarchaeology: Compassion unearthed

Human Molar (Photo by Gleam)
Sometimes modern-day clinicians talk as though they were the first to invent compassion.

Bioarchaeology (the study of biological remains from archaeological sites) would suggest otherwise.  By studying human remains (even ancient ones), scientists can determine many things about the medical history.  Furrows or pits within tooth enamel can indicate disease or malnutrition.  Bone lesions can also indicate diet deficiencies.  The thickness and strength of bones can show levels of activity or inactivity.  Skeletons often reveal age and gender, and sometimes yield information about socio-cultural conditions.

The New York Times recently reported that an archaeological site south of present-day Hanoi included one skeleton that was laid to rest in a fetal position, whereas almost all the others at that burial place were laid out straight.  This indicated to the examining archaeologists that the curled-up skeleton "lies in death as he did in life, bent and crippled by disease."  They surmised that he had become "paralyzed from the waist down" approximately 10 years before dying.

This discovery most likely means that "the people around him who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need."  It also suggests that "he himself had a sense of his own worth and a strong will to live."

Compassion is therefore not necessarily bound to the latest therapy, wonder drug, human-service agency, or government grant.  It can be as old as humanity and/or as young as this very moment.


Copyright December 20, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas children: Naughty, nice or not applicable?

Tiny Tim (Public Domain)
What modern-day Christian parent doesn't in some way equate Christmas with children?

Nevertheless, it wasn't always that way.  In fact, during many historical periods, Christmas would not have even merited a PG rating. tells us that during the Middle Ages, Christmas was "celebrated raucously in a drunken carnival-like atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras."  How then did it morph into a child-centered, family-friendly holiday?

In a word (or two):  literary invention…

Authors like Charles Dickens and Washington Irving had a profound effect upon the way that Christmas was perceived. 
During a time of great "class conflict and turmoil," Dickens "created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol."  This
story popularized a message of "charity and good will towards all humankind" (emphasizing the Tiny Tims of the world).  Before that, Irving had written "a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house."  Within these stories, upper and lower classes "mingled effortlessly," which gave the impression that Christmas of yore had been one big happy family-type occasion.

Americans "began to embrace Christmas as the perfect family holiday" - with only one catch.  If children were nice, then plenty of goodies would come their way.  But if they were naughty - look out!  Santa would not be nearly as generous with those mini-meanies. 

Or would he?

Whereas warnings like these served as child-restraining techniques for decades, a recent Walmart survey (now that sounds objective) shows that adults are no longer as willing to collude with Santa as they once were.  Not surprisingly, this survey indicates that "nearly 80% of parents say their kids will get the same number of  toys [wonder where from] for Christmas, even if they get on Santa's 'naughty' list…"   


Copyright December 19, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gordon Hempton: Quiet down, listen up

Hoh Valley (by Walter Siegmund)
It used to be that libraries and quiet were practically synonymous.  Recently, however, I was greeted at a local library with a poster that indicated otherwise.

This color-coded "work of art" divvied up the venerable old building into three zones: green (for "moderate conversation" and "considerate
cell phone use"), yellow (for "whispered conversation" and "cell phone texting"), and – finally - red (for "silent study"). The accompanying map was predominantly green, with one narrow band of yellow and two tiny squares of red tucked away on the second floor.

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton has traveled far and wide in search of the few "red squares" of Earth that remain intact.  He describes Earth as a "solar powered juke box" that has much to tell us "if only we listen."  These planetary messages would be much easier to decipher were it not for the constant deluge of manmade noise. Having recently completed a "cross country listening tour of America" in search of truly quiet places, Hempton coauthored the book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet.

During this journey, Hempton discovered that the United States was rife with noise pollution.  Spirituality & Practice lists the following challenges that Hempton noted:  nighttime noise that affects hospital patients; a lack of sufficient noise ordinances in many communities; hearing loss from such recreational vehicles as dirt bikes and snowmobiles; blasting music in between baseball innings; ear-jangling airport construction; and loud oceanic rumblings from ships, drills and sonar.

And the one square inch of silence?  It's no longer as close as the nearest library.   Hempton had to go deep into the Hoh Valley of Washington's Olympic National Park in order to savor it.


Copyright December 18, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 17, 2012

In the beginning was the Music

Piano Strings (Photo by Opus33)
John 1:1 says some mysterious things that people are still trying to figure out.  As stated in the New International Version of the Bible:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

According to theoretical physicist Brian Greene, this Word might have been musical in nature.  Within his "Physics of Sound" presentation on, Greene gives his take on "Harmonics and the Unified Theory."  He explains that the Unified Theory would be "a single idea, a single principle, maybe even a single equation that might describe everything in the universe." Greene
believes that String Theory might just be the Unified Theory that Einstein had been looking for.

Scientists and philosophers have long been searching for the basic "building blocks" of the universe.  There are atoms within molecules - protons, neutrons and electrons within atoms - and so on…  Where this "so on…" ends is the stuff (or dreams) that String Theory is made of.  It alleges that there are tiny little filament-type "strings" within each and every particle that you could ever imagine (and then some).  These "strings" are said to vibrate in different patterns (musically analogous to an electron vibrating like a middle C and a quark vibrating like an A).

If this were the case, then the entire universe would indeed be "singing."  This could be why Peter Larsen, a computational biologist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, was able to transform "data from blue-green algae into musical notes."  Clara Moskowitz of LiveScience reports that this algae data is now in the "key of sea."


Copyright December 17, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Longest Night's journey into Christmas

Icicles (Photo by Barfooz)
For those who are not having a holly jolly Christmas season, there is hope yet.  More and more churches will be hosting a Longest
Night (or Blue Christmas) service in order to help with these less-than-merry feelings.

What is unique about a Blue Christmas service?  Tiffany Vail, writing for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, explains:  These services have a more quiet, somber feel than a traditional Christmas worship service.  Scripture, music and meditations or sermons focus on the comfort God offers during dark times.  Candles often play a significant part; they are lit in memory of people or events, or utilized in conjunction with prayers and readings.The comforting aspects of these rituals offer relief not only to those who are deeply grieving, but also to those who are feeling anxious and stressed.

Daniel Benedict, writing for The United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship, explains that there is an "interesting convergence" between the Longest Night Service and the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle.  He suggests that some connections can be made "between Thomas's struggle to believe the tale of Jesus' resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness
and grief faced by those living with loss."

Ministry Matters presents the following tips for leading Longest Night Services:  use Advent hymns with minor chords and hopeful lyrics; emphasize that Advent is not just a pre-Christmas celebration, but is also a time to grapple with human suffering; don't preach for too long (or at all), but instead focus upon communal forms of worship; and prioritize prayer.


Copyright December 16, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rock on, Mother Earth

Garden of the Gods (Photo by Robert Corby) 
Isaiah the Prophet repeatedly referred to the Lord as a Rock:  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal (26:4 NIV).  Jesus, too, utilized that holy analogy:  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18 KJV).

Centuries later, rocks were still being associated with the Divine.  In 1859, two surveyors were exploring the Colorado City region.  When they came upon a site that was rife with eye-catching rock formations, one of them exclaimed: …Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble.  We will call it the Garden of the Gods.  It is still being called that today.

What is it about rocks that so captures the soul?  Patricia Adams Farmer explores this question in her article titled The Numinosity of Rocks.  She explains that Carl Jung "viewed rocks as one of the primordial symbols of eternity."  Ancient sculptors sought to "free the spirit" within the stone (somewhat like carving an elephant by removing everything that is not the elephant).  Tombstones and piling rocks upon graves also reflect this way of thinking.

Wikipedia presents the geological definition of "rock" as "a naturally occurring solid aggregate of one of more minerals or mineraloids."  Farmer, however (along with "Whitehead, Buddhism and quantum physics"), speaks of rocks as "vibrant energy rather than inert lumps of matter."  She states that science is beginning to corroborate that which mysticism has sensed right along - and recommends grasping a rock in order to
literally "feel the Deep Eternal."  


Copyright December 15, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 14, 2012

By George: Harrison's Hinduism

Harrison in 1974 (Public Domain)
George Harrison was once seated right behind the pilot on a private jet.  Shortly after takeoff the plane went into a dive, and Harrison could see warning lights flashing in the cockpit.  It didn't take a brilliant Beatle to figure out that this meant trouble with a capital "T."

Rather than rely solely upon the pilot's expertise, Harrison's immediate response was to begin chanting "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna" and "Om, Christ, Om."  His fellow passenger began following Harrison's lead.  The plane then "pulled out of its stall and landed safely…"

Coincidence?  Harrison would probably think not.  In his article Harrison & Hinduism, Subhamoy Das points out that Harrison regarded the "Hare Krishna" mantra as "mystical energy encased in a sound structure."  Das also explains that such chanting was a vital part of Harrison's existence until – literally - his last dying breath. On November 29, 2001 "images of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna were beside his bed as he died amidst the
chants and prayers."

Kenneth Shouler and Susai Anthony in their article The Quiet Beatle and Hinduism write that Harrison was particularly preoccupied with experiencing God directly.  As the lyrics of My Sweet Lord ("I really want to see you Lord, but it takes so long my Lord…") imply, this was far easier wished for than realized.  The Yoga that Harrison practiced required a great deal of self-restraint and austerity.  This was a tremendous shift from the lifestyle that he had previously been immersed in.

Although all this may sound somewhat mystical, Mark Judge of Real Clear Religion reports that Harrison remained quite a realist.  In other words:  He believed that God is real and that there are certain concrete things you can do to reach him.


Copyright December 14, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ravi Shankar: Classic music high enough

Saraswati Veena (Photo by Sreejithk2000)
During a 1967 interview with KRLA Beat, Ravi Shankar made this statement:  The message I'm trying to get through is that our music is very sacred to us… because it is a music that has been handed down from our religious background for our listeners.

In trying to distance himself from the "high hippies" of the day, Shakar added:  If one hears this music without any intoxication, or any sort of drugs, one does get the feeling
of being intoxicated.  That's the beauty of our music.  It builds up to that pitch.  We don't believe in the extra, or the other stimulus taken, and that's what I'm trying my best to make the young people, without hurting them, of course, to understand.

Ron Ragel reports on "The origins of the sitar" for  He compares sitar music to Hinduism itself, in that both are discovery-based rather than personality-based.  Ragel explains that the word "sitar" (describing the perhaps best known of the Indian classical instruments) is of Persian origin.  It has been strongly linked with 13th-century Persian scholar and Sufi mystic Amir Khusro (along with others before and since).

Ragel also states that the sitar derives from the veena, which is mentioned in the Vedic texts "as the divine instrument of the Goddess of the Arts and Learning namely Saraswati the one who has given the knowledge of the musical notes."  He emphasizes:  Indian classical music and dance are all seen as valid expressions of spirituality.    


Copyright December 13, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve, Twelve, Twelve

Dodecahedron (by DTR) 
Twelve is not only highly composite and superfactorial, but it is also superabundant and sublime.

It's no wonder then that twelve shows up in all kinds of religious paradigms.  Wikipedia reports that the number 12 is especially important within Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but is also a significant part of many other faith traditions.

Within the Hebrew Bible there are 12 sons of Jacob, who in turn became progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. explains that "in the celestial city, there were twelve gates and twelve types of precious stones."  There were also 12 sons of Ishmael, 12 priests of the Chronicles, 12 stones on the altar of Elijah, 12 explorers sent to Canaan, 12 crops of fruit from the Tree of Life (one each month), 12 names engraved on the pectoral, and 12 "loaves of enduring offerings" on the golden table.

The Christian tradition also includes many duodecuple references.  There were Twelve Apostles of Jesus, 12,000 people sealed from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (resulting in a total of 144,000), and Twelve Days of Christmas.  Revelation states that "the kingdom of God had twelve gates that were
guarded by the twelve angels."

The Twelvers are the adherents of Shia Islam who believe that "there are twelve Imams [Ali, Hasan, Husayn, and nine of Husayn's descendants], legitimate successors of the prophet Muhammad."  Twelvers also believe these Imams to be "possessed of supernatural knowledge, authority, and infallibility."  Sura 12 of the Qur'an "narrates the story of Prophet Yusuf [Joseph] and his 12 brothers."

In Hinduism, there are Twelve Jyotirlingas ("epitome of God Shiva" in Shaivism), 12 petals in the Anahata ("heart chakra"), and 12 names of the Sun god Surya.  Within other spiritual paths, there were Twelve Labors of Hercules, Twelve Olympians, and Twelve Sons of Odin.  


Copyright December 12, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pope visits old-age home, then gets to leave

Old Woman Dozing (by Maes)
One major difference between Pope Benedict and the seniors he recently preached to at an old-age home is that he got to leave and they didn't.

Nevertheless, the Pope stressed to them that "life can be beautiful at every age" (especially when your home is the Vatican rather than some white-walled ward).  Before going back to a life filled with purpose and excitement, he added:  You must never lock yourself in sadness…

Perhaps this particular Sant' Egidio community that he visited is markedly different from the multitude of old-age homes that emphasize sanitation over sanity.  A 1992 study by Abrams, Teresi and Butin of Cornell University Medical College indicated that depression in nursing home residents is
rampant.  Here is a quote from their abstract:  It is apparent that depression in long-term care facilities is a condition with doubtful prognosis and negative medical, social and financial consequences.

"Amy B." is a Yahoo! Contributor with an extensive professional background in the field of psychology.  Speaking from her own personal and work experiences, Amy writes:  Anybody in their right mind would
be depressed if all of a sudden they were taken away from their beloved home, denied the ability to go anywhere at all, told what to do all the time, lost all personal rights, and was subjected to total strangers day in and day out who see you in your most intimate ways…  Sadly, nursing homes fail to address the emotional and psychological needs of their residents…

It's not surprising that Pope Benedict also reported feeling younger after visiting this old-age home.  Who wouldn't after realizing how wonderful it is to still be able to leave…  


Copyright December 11, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dawn still Breaking in Serbia

(Photo by Pivari) 
The Twilight series might now be officially ended, but Dawn is still Breaking in Serbia.

NPR implies that residents of the Serbian hamlet Zarozje would not be the least bit surprised to find Bella and Edward in their
midst.  After all, somebody's got to convince Sava Savanovic that things aren't quite as bad as they sometimes seem.

Sava Savanovic is described as "Serbia's most famous vampire," who is currently furious over the destruction of his favorite hangout (a "small shack in the dense oak tree forest… on the clear mountain Rogatica river").  When this shack recently collapsed (not from neglect, mind you, but from the fear of the locals to mess with it over the years), Svanovic no longer had a "place to hang his cape."

This resulted in a certain wanderlust (wandering through the woods while lusting for revenge) for the poor "fellow."  How do we know?  NPR reports that some "locals claim they can hear steps cracking dry forest leaves and strange sounds coming from the rocky mountain peaks…"

These same folks feel way down deep in their un-staked hearts that Svanovic has surely survived the piercing of his own thumper on those very same mountain peaks long ago.  He allegedly did this by morphing into a butterfly at the time.

Although some locals are now talking Svanovic up in the hopes of encouraging a Transylvanian-type tourism, others are stuffing garlic into their pockets just in case…


Copyright December 10, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mamika: Wonder Woman plus 70

(Look out Newton, here comes Mamika!)
Ever wonder what Wonder Woman's been doing after all these years?  Most would assume she's lying on some couch watching Superman reruns - simply because it's been decades since she first hit stardom back in 1941.

No way!  Seeking a new lease on life at age 80-something, Frederika Goldberger (Wonder Woman's "Clark Kent" alter ego) got off the couch and back into the studio.  There her grandson (and you thought she and Captain Steve Trevor were just friends) Sacha Goldberger "began photographing her to help cheer her up and keep her active."  MSN Today reports that after a few short years of striking poses, Frederika emerged from her artsy cocoon as "Mamika the superhero" (for those who aren't fluent in Hungarian, "Mamika" means "my little grandmother").

Mamika's mission?  To show the world "that you can be old and still have a sense of humor and be fun…"  Not content to simply be a theatrical icon like Betty White, Mamika is also determined to defy Newton's Law of Gravity.   She has therefore been depicted in midair, cape streaming behind her, having no doubt harnessed the power of quantum physics as a mighty ally in this quest.

Even her alter ego has accomplished miraculous feats.  Whereas Clark Kent barely made it through a day at
the office without avoiding someone's gaze, Frederika Goldberger was quite confident in her own skin.  So
confident, in fact, that during the World War II Nazi scourge, she and her husband managed to save  
themselves and ten others from a terrible fate...

Mamika, now "a sprightly 94-year-old French woman," is planning to co-host exhibitions of the work she's been doing with her grandson.  This work includes the books Mamika: My Mighty Little Grandmother and Mamika & Co – plus there's even talk of a Mamika movie.


Copyright December 9, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday season: Interfaith predominates

Abdu'l Baha (Public Domain)
Many Westerners think of the "holiday season" as extending from the end of November to the beginning of January.  Christians often think of it as the "Christmas season," and Jews as the "Hanukkah season."

However, this time of year is fraught with other religious holidays, as well.  Interfaith Calendar 2012 lists these November ones: November 24 - Ashura (Islamic day of mourning for the martyrdom of Muhammad's eldest grandson, Hussein ibn Ali ); November 24 – Guru Tegh Bahadur Martyrdom (Sikh day of honoring the Ninth Guru); November 26 - Day of the Covenant (Bahai celebration of the appointment of Abdu'l-Baha as the Centre of Baha'u'llah's Covenant); November 28 – Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha (Bahai commemoration of the passing of Abdu'l-Baha, the eldest son and successor of Baha'u'llah); and November 28 – Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Birthday (a celebration of Sikhism's First Guru and founder).

The following are some of Interfaith Calendar 2012's December holidays:  December 8 – Bodhi Day (Buddhism's commemoration of Buddha's enlightenment); December 21 – Yule/Litha (Wicca/Pagan, Northern/Southern Hemisphere, midwinter/midsummer solstice celebrations); December 26 - Zarathosht Diso (Zoroastrian commemoration of the death of Prophet Zarathushtra); and December 26 to January 1- Kwanzaa (Pan-African and African American holiday honoring seven life virtues).       


Copyright December 8, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mele Kalikimaka: Christianity in Hawaii

(Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace)
Although "Mele Kalikimaka" is the phonological approximation of "Merry Christmas" in Hawaiian, Christmas wasn't always as merry there as it is today.

Wikipedia reports that when Congregationalists had arrived in Hawaii back in the 1820s, they "had been embraced by the chiefs of the kingdom."  However, when Catholics began arriving several years later, the Protestant clergy encouraged these chiefs to impose "heavy penalties, such as forced labor, beatings and imprisonment on their people who embraced Catholic practice."

This resulted in the establishment of a Catholic underground which held secret Masses in private homes - and culminated in the expelling of "the priests of the community on Christmas Eve 1831."
Lay brothers were allowed to remain in Hawaii, and one of them (Irish seminarian Brother Columban Murphy) kept the mainland priests advised of the changing political climate.  By the mid-1830s, the time seemed ripe for trying again.  Therefore, Irish priest Arsenius Walsh (one of the "Picpus Fathers") arrived in Hawaii in 1836.

Acceptance of the Catholic faith continued to grow slowly.  Religious persecution continued for years.  After nurturing a successful congregation in Honolulu, Walsh was sent to the island of Kauai. His first Mass on that island was celebrated on Christmas Day 1841.  However, Walsh's overall energies had to be divided "between preaching the Gospel to the populace and defending his followers against the local chiefs" (the island's governess, Amelia Kekauonohi, was a "staunch Protestant").

According to a 2009 Gallup poll, the Christian demographics of modern-day Hawaii are as follows:
Protestant/Other Christian 37.8%; Roman Catholic 22.8%; and Mormon 3.3%.  Christmas can now be
celebrated by all these members of the Body in a far more peaceful manner.

Copyright December 7, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent: Waiting is

Patience (1540 Engraving) 
There is something within all of us that feels like a "stranger within a strange land."

This phrase, originally attributed to Moses in Exodus 2:22 (KJV), was also popularized by author Robert Heinlein in his book by the same title.  According to Wikipedia, this science-fiction 1960s "cult classic" tells the story of "a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians."  This
protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, is therefore in a position to experience Earth's culture from a somewhat alien perspective.

In negotiating his way through terrestrial life, Smith relies heavily upon Martian "theology."  The essence of Martian life is the hope to one day "grok in fullness."  To "grok in fullness" seems somewhat analogous to terrestrial visions of "enlightenment" or "nirvana."  There is also a Martian emphasis upon the here and now; therefore, Martians don't wait for this fullness, they simply wait.  Thus the famous Heinlein saying:  Waiting is…

Some of this Heinlein-type waiting could certainly apply to Advent.  Whereas Advent is all too often associated with an expectant form of waiting, it – like Lent – might better be honored through an in-depth practice of treasuring the stillness.  The Zen-like phrase "Don't just do something, stand there" can also assist an Advent practitioner to more fully appreciate the long dark silent nights.  


Copyright December 6, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Turquoise: Betcha didn't know

(Photo by Arpingstone)
Betcha didn't know these ten things about turquoise (even though Wikipedia did)…

One:  The name itself is sixteenth-century French for "Turkish" because this mineral was most likely first introduced into Europe via Turkey.

Two:  Even the hardest varieties of turquoise are about as breakable as window glass.

Three:  Iran (formerly known as Persia) has been an important source of turquoise for over 2,000 years.

Four:  Turquoise was mined in the Sinai Peninsula by Ancient Egyptians.

Five:  Arizona and Nevada are the two leading turquoise-producing regions within the United States.

Six:  Turquoise also comes from China, Australia, Chile, Afghanistan, India, England, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Seven:  Tutankhamun's "iconic burial mask" was "liberally inlaid" with turquoise.

Eight:  Ancient Persians wore turquoise around the neck or wrist to ward off "unnatural death."

Nine:  Turquoise was associated with Hathor, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of "joy, feminine love, and motherhood."

Ten:  According to Exodus 28, turquoise was "a stone in the Jewish High Priest's breastplate."


Copyright December 5, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bella doll: Barbie shows her true fangs

Actual Female Body Types (Public Domain)
All these many years, Barbie has been setting a
pernicious example for young ladies the world over.  Her inhuman measurements have sucked the confidence from many a lesser-endowed maiden's heart and soul.

In an article titled "The Scary Reality of a Real-Life Barbie Doll," Galia Slayen reported to The Huffington Post about a six-foot Barbie doll that she built for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) at her high school.  This same doll was also part of NEDAW at nearby Hamilton College.  This "real-life" Barbie sported a 39" bust, an 18" waist, and 33" hips (which are "the supposed
measurements of Barbie if she were a real person").

The visual image of this Barbie replica is frightening.  Her scrawny limbs, waist, and head are dwarfed by her bulbous breasts.  It's a wonder she can even stand up for very long without toppling over.  Along with
this startling picture, Slayen adds these "Get Real, Barbie" statistics:  At 5'9" tall and weighing 110 pounds, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia.  She likely
would not menstruate… If Barbie was a real woman, she'd have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.

These days, Barbie is finally showing her true fangs.  MSN Entertainment reports that you can now "Add Bella Cullen to Your Barbie Collection."  The accompanying description of this even-scarier Barbie follows:  Bella has overcome every obstacle and made the ultimate sacrifice to be with her true love [implication to young females:  and you should too – no matter what gets bloodied up in the process].  This giftset features Bella, now changed into a vampire [another inspiring goal for impressionable girls], in a
"leather" jacket and leggings, her hair long and flowing, with distinctive vampire eyes and glittery [but no doubt flawless] skin.

And just so she never spends a moment in blessed solitude, Edward [think Ken] is always available too…


Copyright December 4, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved