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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Vampires: Do the math

Count Dracula (aka Bela Lugosi)
Reading, writing, and…  vampires?  Although that phrase doesn't flow as easily as, say, blood…  physicist Costas Efthimiou from the University of Central Florida definitely does associate vampires with mathematics.  More precisely, Efthimiou attributes the lack of vampires to a mathematical impossibility.

He figures that on January 1, 1600 there were only 536,870,911 humans on this planet.  So even if the very first Dracula didn't pop out of his coffin until then – and subsequently bit only one person per month – the vampire population would have still doubled by February 1, 1600 (since humans, once bitten by vampires, allegedly become vampires themselves).  Worse yet, vampires would have quadrupled by March 1, 1600.  Do you see where this is going (ad nauseum, ad infinitum)?  At that morbid rate, all humans would have turned into vampires no later than June 1602 (and probably much earlier, human mortality curves being rather steep back then).

Last we checked, there were still humans (or what appeared to be reasonable facsimiles) here on Earth.
Therefore, vampires are either a relatively new phenomenon (Twilight anyone?), or somebody put something in Bram Stoker's wine when he wasn't paying attention.


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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Perfect storm: From whose perspective?

(1991 Perfect Storm)
Although "perfect storm" is certainly a more uplifting expression than "Frankenstorm," it nevertheless carries with it a lot of baggage.

Wikipedia defines "perfect storm" as a term describing "an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically."  Therefore, it can either be metaphorical (as in the day you ran into your ex and his new love three different times, then ended up on the couch with a splitting headache), or quite literal (as in Hurricane Sandy).

Theories about "perfect storms" can be as unsettling as the storms themselves, especially when these theories turn theological.  John P.
McTernan, author of  As America Has Done To Israel, adds his own particular spin to Sandy. Convinced that "God is systematically destroying America," McTernan (on his blog) warns that this hurricane "could do catastrophic damage to the entire Northeast."   He traces the roots of Hurricane Sandy back to the day of the Perfect Storm of 1991.  On that exact day, President George H. W. Bush "initiated the Madrid Peace Process to divide the land of Israel…"  McTernan claims that "America has been under God's judgment since this event."  He states that the lack of American repentance during these last 21 years has now resulted in Hurricane Sandy.

While others are calling upon human assistance to weather this storm, McTernan is urging people to pray like there's no tomorrow.  He will be leading a Solemn Assembly (per Joel 1:14) of prayer on his blog talk radio show.  This Assembly is expected to take place "everyday leading up to the election."

However, McTernan does add this "disclaimer":   The storm is projected to come right over my house, so it might curtail the prayer meeting if the power is knocked out.


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


Monday, October 29, 2012

Shepherds: A dying breed?

(Good Shepherd)
Although it costs far more to shepherd animals from pasture to pasture than it does to coop them up in barns, many Spaniards are determined to keep their "centuries-old sheep rearing traditions" alive.

And well they must – for if they don't, biblical passages such as these might one day have no frame of reference:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.  He will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom.  He will gently lead those who have their young.   (Isaiah 40:11)  

Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  
(Matthew 25:32)

I am the good shepherd.  The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.   
(John 10:11)

Such an ancient art and tradition is certainly worth defending.  That could be why Spanish shepherds recently took to the streets of Madrid – along with 2,000 of their closest wooly friends.  Harold Heckle of the Associated Press reported that these shepherds "led a large flock of sheep through central Madrid… in defense of ancient grazing, migration and droving rights threatened by urban sprawl and modern agricultural practices."

Amen to that.  King David would be nothing but proud.


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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

David Lynch Foundation: Many happy returns

(Photo by Beyond My Ken)
When Katy Perry's birthday rolls around, people celebrate. Knowing this, she has asked fans for contributions to a cause she firmly believes in – that of the David Lynch Foundation (DLF).

Perry makes this statement on the DLF website:  I have been meditating for two years now, and it's the best thing I have ever done to help bring more creativity, positive energy, and peace to my life…  I support the David Lynch Foundation because it brings Transcendental Meditation to millions of
adults and children all over the world who suffer from post-traumatic stress, such as veterans, inner-
city school kids, and women and girls who are victims of violence.

Lynch himself - in addition to his other many accomplishments (filmmaker, musician, visual artist, television director, actor) – has practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM) assiduously since 1973.  In 1975 he met the founder of the TM movement, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  He later enrolled in the Maharishi's 2003 month-long "Millionaire's Enlightenment Course" (so named because the enrollment fee was one million USD).

Lynch continues to avidly spread the word about the benefits of TM.  After attending the Maharishi's 2008 funeral, Lynch stated:  "In 20, 50, 500 years there will be millions of people who know and understand what
the Maharishi has done."  Lynch's 2009 benefit concert, titled "Change Begins Within" featured such celebrities as Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Moby and Mike Love.  Other filmmakers have also publicized Lynch's TM efforts in documentaries such as "David Wants to Fly" and "Beyond the Noise…"


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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eben Alexander: Neurosurgeon 'vacations' in Heaven

Dante's Heaven (by Gustave Dore)
Dr. Eben Alexander, a Harvard neurosurgeon, probably
can afford to vacation anywhere on Earth.  However, he instead claims to have "vacationed" in Heaven during a week-long coma.

According to ABC News, Alexander contracted a severe E. coli meningitis infection approximately four years ago.  This plunged him into a state in which his "entire cortex – the parts of the brain that give us consciousness, thought, memory and understanding – was not functioning."  When medical staff would shine a flashlight into his eyes, it was "just like no one was there."

In some ways, that may have been the case.  Although
Alexander's body remained alive in the hospital bed, only the most primitive parts of his brain seemed responsive.  Nevertheless, Alexander remembers being "in a dark, murky environment… for a very long time…"  During this experience, he had no bodily awareness or language.  After what seemed like years, he was then "rescued by this beautiful, spinning, white light" that had "an incredibly beautiful melody with it that opened up into a bright valley…"  Alexander further described this valley - which he now calls "Heaven" – as an "incredible, rich, ultra-real world of indescribable

As if all this weren't amazing enough, Alexander then recalls soaring across time and space on the wings of a
butterfly.  With him was a beautiful young woman who telepathically communicated a message of unconditional love.  God was vastly present as love, and manifested as "an orb of brilliant light."  After Alexander regained full physical consciousness here on Earth, he was shown a picture of a biological sister that he had never before met or seen.  He then recognized her as the woman he had met while in "Heaven."

Although some have theorized that this "vacation" was instead a dream, hallucination, or confabulation -  
neuroscientist Alexander insists that a non-functioning cortex (such as his during the coma) would not have
allowed for those types of cortex-oriented experiences.  Although he himself was a former skeptic, Alexander is now convinced that consciousness "does not depend on the existence of the brain in the physical universe."  He is also fully convinced that this "vacation" provided "proof of Heaven."  


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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Eid al-Adha: Abraham's sacrifice and ours

(Hagar and Ishmael)
Although important parts of the story differ from religion to religion (Jews and Christians speak of the imminent sacrifice of Isaac, whereas Muslims speak of the imminent sacrifice of Ishmael), the
adherence of Abraham and his son to God's will is quite well known.

Religions may disagree about which son Abraham was to sacrifice, but they tend to agree that God's seemingly-horrific request was a test of faith.  Since faith and sacrifice are often inextricably entwined,
this request was also a test of sacrifice.  However, a God that has all and is all does not need anything from the Creation.  What then is the point of sacrifice, a practice that is prevalent within many spiritual paths?

The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, which presents Islam as a "peaceful, tolerant, rational, inspiring" faith, explains Abraham's would-be sacrifice as an example for the rest of us.  The sacrifice of an animal during Eid al-Adha is equated with the willingness "to
sacrifice our own animal desires" in order to fulfill a "higher purpose."  Because the Qur'an clearly states that "it is not the blood of the animal that reaches God, but the dutifulness on your part," this sacrifice is only spiritually acceptable if it "leads you to be more dutiful, to make sacrifice of your own self and not of just the animal."

Sacrifice is therefore for our own "moral and spiritual progress."  Abraham's example is so intense that it has
left its imprint upon the majority of humankind.  Back in Abraham's time, sons were not only valued for their
family ties, but also for their economic ones.  Abraham would not only be losing a cherished child, but also a
means of sustenance.  Nevertheless, he and his son were willing to give all they had to God.

Are we?


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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Insha'Allah: Lord willing

(Qur'an Manuscript)
Many religions have ways of affirming that "Man plans, God laughs" (from the Yiddish, aka "Man proposes, God disposes").

The following expression shares a similar conviction:  "Lord willing and the creeks don't rise." offers two explanations for the origin of this common statement.  The first links it to the Creek Indian Nation back in the days of George Washington.  When President Washington asked Colonel Benjamin Hawkins to come to the new nation's capitol, Hawkins reputedly replied:  "God willing and the Creek don't rise."  If the Creek
Nation rose up in rebellion, Hawkins would then have to forego his trip to the capitol.  The second explanation traces the roots of this expression to
the Irish potato famine.  When the creeks rose, the potatoes rotted.  This occurred in Idaho as well as in Ireland.

According to Wikipedia, the term "Insha'Allah" is not only used within the entire Muslim world, but is also commonly used by Christian groups within the Middle East and Africa.  It indicates "submission to God," as well as the Muslim belief that "everything is maktub [written]" by Allah before it actually occurs.  In Surat Al Kahf (18):23-24 of the Qur'an it is stated that one should never speak of future actions without also saying "Insha'Allah" ("if God wills"). 

A similar exhortation is found within the Christian Bible's Epistle of James.  James 4:14-15 (NIV) states:
"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'"


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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dussehra: Off with the nose

Ramayana Dance (Nguyen Thanh Long)
Dussehra, the traditional Hindu celebration of the victory of good over evil, is rooted within stories from the Ramayana.  And no story is as closely associated with Dussehra as that of the "anti-heroine" Surpanakha…

Wikipedia tells us that "Surpanakha" is Sanskrit for "sharp, long nails" (as in "hero's nightmare").  Perhaps because of the sharpness of these nails, Surpanakha is also referred to as the "arrow that set in motion the chain of events leading directly to the destruction of Ravana [her demon brother, the powerful King of Lanka]."

How so? 

After Surpanakha married Dushtabuddhi (another unsavory character in the Ramayana's cast of villains), he began to covet some of Ravana's power.  Ravana's solution was straightforward – he had his brother-in-law killed.  This greatly angered the now-widowed Surpanakha.  She began spending a good deal of time in the forest visiting with Dushtabuddhi's family members.  While doing so, the supposedly-distraught widow made a bid to marry not only Rama [the handsome – and very much married - young Prince of Ayodhya], but also his brother Lakshmana.

Because Rama was thoroughly devoted to his wife, Sita – and because Lakshmana was thoroughly devoted
to the two of them – Surpanakha's advances did not go over well.  In fact, after Surpanakha also threatened to eat Sita for breakfast, Lakshmana's response was quite understandable.  He lopped off Surpanakha's nose (and perhaps her ears, to boot).

The domino effect kicked in big time after that.  One karmic thing led to another, and before you could say
"Dushtabuddhi" three times fast, he and his evil consorts had been relegated to the hellish halls of corruption.  Which just goes to show that evil doesn't pay.  So keep on the sunny side of goodness in order to truly honor many more Dussehras…


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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kid places, healing spaces

(Photo by Steve Ford Elliott) 
If your child seems "wired for sound," perhaps sound itself is causing that extra stress.

Lynne Ticknor of Mom's Homeroom reports on a study by Esther Sternberg, M.D. of the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, Maryland.  Dr. Sternberg states that "there is a strong relationship
between how we view our environment and what our levels of stress are."  Therefore, a child in an "overstimulating environment" (i.e., "too much sound, light, visual confusion") could begin to feel "hyped up, nervous and overanxious."

Although children are bound to sometimes visit overstimulating places (Disneyworld anyone?), the good news is that parents and caregivers can easily create "beautiful, calming spaces" for children practically anywhere.  This can be as simple as "throwing an old sheet over a small side table" or as elaborate as building a life-size playhouse.

Ticknor lists factors to consider when creating such a space in a child's own room.  These include the following:  Declutter (use organizing bins and donate unused objects); Soft lighting (preferably non-fluorescent); Soothing colors (such as greens and blues); Soothing sounds (reduce jarring noise and utilize "white noise"); Comfort, comfort, comfort (think soft and cuddly); Calming scents (possibly lavender and vanilla).

Preschoolers might choose to nap, color, or thumb through books in spaces like these.  Older children might "listen to soft music or write in a journal." 

And who knows?  Adults might feel inspired enough by all this to create such "sacred space" within their own hectic environments…


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

Monday, October 22, 2012

George McGovern: Religious history

(George S. McGovern)
George Stanley McGovern, the son of a preacher, came very close to being one himself.

His father, Reverend Joseph C. McGovern, was a Wesleyan Methodist Church pastor.  Wikipedia reports that the Wesleyan Methodist Church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843, mainly over slavery issues.  The early Wesleyan Methodists were anti-slavery, as well as strong proponents of women's rights.  Their itinerant frontier preachers were quite popular with the farmers and laborers of that time.

The Wesleyan Methodists were also noted for their purity doctrines, and young George's participation in "worldly amusements" was curtailed. George also experienced such somber events as the Dust Bowl and the
Great Depression while growing up.  His family was living on the edge of poverty during these hard times, which fostered George's lifelong compassion for the struggling working class.

Wikipedia states that George was also strongly influenced by John Wesley's "practical divinity" teachings.  Wesley had "sought to fight poverty, injustice, and ignorance."  After graduating from high school, McGovern enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University in his "home town" of Mitchell, South Dakota.  His studies were interrupted by his World War II military service, but he continued with them when he returned home.  After earning a magna cum laude Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946, McGovern began divinity studies at Garrett  Theological Seminary near Chicago, Illinois.

By this time, George had "switched from Wesleyan Methodism to less fundamental regular Methodism."  He was becoming heavily "influenced by Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement."  Although Rauschenbusch had been raised on biblical literalism, he later began to embrace the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.  With this came Rauschenbusch's emphasis upon substituting "love for selfishness as the basis for human society."

After preaching for a relatively short time as a "Methodist student supply minister," McGovern became frustrated by "the minutiae of his pastoral duties."  He then returned to a love that had been kindled by his wartime experience – the love of politics.  McGovern afterwards became a political science professor…  and the rest is surely history.


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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alpha USA: If you could ask God one question

(Greek letter "alpha")
"If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?"  That is the question that Alpha USA emphasizes on its website.  Here are some of the
listed responses:

Why am I here?  Why do we die?  Why does God love me so much?  Why am I suffering?  What is life all about?  I'm a good person.  Why has my life gone to hell?

These questions are certainly not unique.  They have been asked for millennia by people from many (and no) religions.  What is somewhat unique (at least in this day and age) is Alpha's approach.  According to the website, "Alpha gives everyone the opportunity to explore the meaning of life [from a decidedly Christian
perspective] in a relaxed, friendly setting."  This "relaxed, friendly" atmosphere includes the following:  ten weeks of once-a-week gatherings (one of which is a day-long or weekend getaway); shared food at the
beginning of each session; a short talk after that; and a discussion about the talk during which "everyone is welcome to contribute their opinions and no question is considered hostile or too simple."

What's interesting (and seemingly significant) is that many of Alpha's attendees "have never been to church…"  Still others "have attended church occasionally but feel they have never really understood the basics of the Christian faith."  Some come for theological inquiries into "the claims of Jesus" and such – and then there are those who "want to get beyond religion and find a relationship with God that really changes life."  Alpha USA proclaims:  Everyone is welcome.


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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Guru Granth Sahib: Women upheld

 Guru Granth Sahib copy (Photo by J Singh)
What is so special about the Guru Granth Sahib is that it contains the actual writings of the Gurus.  Whereas the teachings of Holy Ones such as Jesus and Buddha often come to us via disciples such as Matthew and Ananda, teachings of most of the Sikh Gurus are known to us directly through their own hymns (shabads).

What is also so special about the Guru Granth Sahib is that these hymns tend to uphold the intrinsic worth of women.  This is wonderful enough within any context, but especially so within an overall society that had been traditionally oppressing females.

Guru Nanak, the very first Sikh Guru, emphatically praises women within this scriptural passage:  "We are born of woman, we are conceived in the womb of woman, we are engaged and married to woman.  We make friendship with woman and the lineage continued because of woman…  Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings?..." (from Var Asa, page 473).  In Sri Rag (page 17), Nanak also welcomes the equal participation of women within Sikh congregations:  "Come my sisters and dear comrades…  Meeting together, let us tell the tales of our Omnipotent Spouse (God)…"

Guru Amar Dar, the third of the Ten Sikh Gurus, presents marriage as a spiritual blending of both spouses:  "They are not said to be husband and wife who merely sit together.  Rather, they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies" (Pauri, page 788).  Amar Das also strongly condemned the practice of sati, in which widows would throw themselves upon their husbands' funeral pyres and burn to death.  He wrote these words within Var Suhi, page 787:  "They cannot be called satis who burn themselves with their dead husbands.  They can only be called satis, if they bear the shock of separation.  They may also be known as satis, who live with character and contentment and always show veneration to their husbands by remembering them."

Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru, addresses the heavy burdens that dowries had been placing upon the families of brides in this passage from Sri Rag, page 79:  "Any other dowry, which the perverse place for show, that is false pride and worthless gilding.  O' my Father! give me the name of Lord God as a gift and dowry."

Bhagat Nam Dev - not Himself a Sikh Guru, but nevertheless One whose writings Fifth Guru Arjan Dev included within the Holy Granth – urged husbands to remain faithful to their wives:  "The blind-man abandons the wife of his home, and has an affair with another's woman.  He is like the parrot, who is pleased to see the simbal tree, but at last dies clinging to it."


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


Friday, October 19, 2012

Orion: The philosopher's child

Orion's Conception (by Theodor de Bry)
Three-fathered (and no-mothered) Orion is said to be the son of Apollo, Vulcan and Mercury, or of Jupiter, Neptune and Mercury – take your pick (depending, of course, on whether you believe 16th-century German alchemist Michael Maier or 18th-century French alchemist Antoine-Joseph Pernety to be the true judge of the matter).

Any way you look at it, this somehow makes Orion filius philosphorum "the philosopher's child" (aka filius sapientiae "the child of wisdom," infans noster "our child," and infans solaris "sun child").  It also somehow makes Orion inextricably linked to the
child of the Sun and the Moon (aka "child of the Red King and White Queen"), to "hermaphroditic Hermes," and to "the child of the egg" (and we're not talking fluffy baby chicks here).

If all this seems somewhat esoteric, then "the philosopher's child" archetype might seem even more so.  According to, the "Psychological Conjunction" (i.e., "the union of both the masculine and feminine sides of our personalities into a new belief system or state of consciousness") is psych-speak for "the philosopher's child."  This new state of consciousness enables one to "clearly discern what needs to be done to achieve lasting enlightenment."

Who knew Orion was so advanced a soul?  Why with all those stories about him running around chasing dogs and bulls, splitting hares, and boasting about it, to boot (or to belt) – it's rather shocking to learn that this was all just one… vast… cosmic joke.


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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Auriesville Saints: Three await the Fourth

(Interior of Auriesville Martyrs Shrine Coliseum)
Auriesville, a hamlet about 40 miles west of Albany, New York along the banks of the mighty Mohawk River, was named after Auries ("the last Mohawk known to have lived there").

Wikipedia tells us that this present-day hamlet in Montgomery County, New York is thought to be located at the site of the Mohawk village in which Roman Catholic Saints Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean de Lalande were martyred long ago.  The writings of Jogues and two Canadian martyrs (Francois-Joseph Bressani and Joseph Poncet) indicate that this Mohawk village (then called
Ossernenon) was on the south side of the Mohawk River, west of the Schoharie River, "on the top of a hill, a quarter league from the river."  Jogues even pinpointed the distances of Ossernenon from nearby villages. gives brief biographies of the lives of these first three Auriesville Saints.  Saint Isaac Jogues was a French Jesuit priest who was enslaved and brutalized at Ossernenon.   Nevertheless, Jogues managed to "minister to the captives and evangelize the Mohawks."  Even after escaping, Jogues chose to later return to the scene of this torture as a peace ambassador.  He was tragically martyred in October 1646 "when a box of his belongings was blamed for crop pestilence."  Just one day after Jogues' martyrdom, Saint John Lalande (Jogues' lay assistant on this ill-fated peace mission) was also martyred while attempting to "recover the slain body of Father Jogues from the paths of the village."  Saint Rene Goupil was a lay Jesuit who had served as a physician in the Quebec missions.  Although he had also been tortured and enslaved in Ossernenon, Goupil amazingly "tended the wounds of his tormentors."  He was martyred in 1642 "while praying the rosary, because he had blessed a little boy with the sign of the cross."

The fourth Auriesville Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, will be canonized on October 21, 2012.  She had been "born in Ossernenon ten years after the martyrdom of  St. Isaac Jogues." The Schenectady, New York Sunday Gazette of October 14, 2012 reports that a "special Mass is scheduled for the big day [of Kateri's canonization], along with art and video documentary presentations."  Busloads and carloads of pilgrims will be arriving for this 2 PM Mass at the Auriesville Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.

"Kateri," The Schenectady Gazette, October 14, 2012, " p. A8

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Elizabeth Ann Seton: Last became First

(Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton)
During some of the darker periods of her life, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, S.C. must have felt like the last in line.

Born in 1774 in New York City, Seton was the offspring of two of the nation's earliest colonial families.  Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was
the son of prominent French Huguenots from New Rochelle, New York.  Her mother, Catherine Charlton, was the daughter of an Episcopal minister.  Religious roots like these may seem like an auspicious beginning for a saint-in-the-making.

Saints, however, seem more born of suffering than of ease.  When Elizabeth was only three years old, her beloved mother died.  Although her father remarried, this marriage eventually ended in discord. Elizabeth then experienced the loss of another mother.  She became quite introspective and began making entries into her journal concerning the sadness that often pervades life.

Elizabeth later married a wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton.  They had five children together. Nevertheless, Elizabeth made time to help organize the Ladies of Charity – a group that assisted the sick and the poor in their homes.  This group effort was inspired by the 17th-century work of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Seton's growing pull towards Catholicism resulted in her conversion to that faith in 1805.  One year later she received Confirmation from the only Catholic bishop in the nation at that time, John Carroll of Baltimore.  Due to the large amount of anti-Catholicism during that era, the academy for young ladies that Seton had begun in New York started to falter as word got around about her new religious allegiance.

Seton therefore accepted an offer to establish a school "dedicated to the education of Catholic girls" in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  This offer of support had been made to her by the Sulpicians, a group of Catholic priests that had fled their native France because of religious persecution.  This group of priests was involved in setting up the first training institution in the United States for Catholic clergy, St. Mary's Seminary of
Baltimore.  With their encouragement, Seton and "other women drawn to the vision of caring for the poor in a religious way of life" were then able to begin the first American congregation of Catholic Sisters. Wikipedia also reports that Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton became the "first native-born citizen of the United States" to be canonized by the Vatican.


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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mother Cabrini: 'Chicago's Very Own'

(Mother Cabrini)
Although Saint Francesca Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C. arrived in New York City when she first traveled to the United States from Italy, her subsequent work and death in Chicago has made her one of
its "Very Own."

Born premature on July 15, 1850, Cabrini's health was delicate for most of her life.  After taking her religious vows in 1877, she and a team of six others founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.) in 1880.  After shaping the rules and regulations of this new institution, Mother Cabrini remained its Superior General for the rest of her life.  After this fledgling congregation managed to establish "seven homes and a free school and nursery" within its first five years, Pope Leo XIII instructed Cabrini "to go to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding to that nation in that era, mostly in great poverty."

Wikipedia reports that Mother Cabrini and her team went on to found a total of 67 institutions (orphanages, schools, hospitals) "in New York, Chicago, Des Plaines, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver, Golden, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and in countries throughout South America and Europe." 

Mother Cabrini journeyed to Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century in order to serve the needs of
its large Italian population.  While there, she paid close attention to details that would prove to be quite important. tells a story about the purchase of a building "at the site that would become Chicago's Columbus Hospital."  When Mother Cabrini "doubted the accuracy of the property measurements listed in the real estate contract," she and the Sisters "tied shoestrings together to create a makeshift measurement" in order to double-check.  After discovering mistakes, the contract was then adjusted in favor of the future hospital, which went on to become "a pre-eminent healthcare institution in Chicago for the next 97 years."


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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sainthood: New York State of Soul

When Billy Joel wrote "New York State of Mind," he mentioned the Hudson River, Chinatown and Riverside.  What he neglected to mention – what most New York enthusiasts neglect to mention – is that many canonized saints (and perhaps many more non-canonized ones) are New York born, bred and/or adopted.

According to Lawrence Downes of The New York Times Sunday Review Opinion Pages, seven out of the 12 (as of October 21, 2012) canonized American saints are New Yorkers ("either native-born or with
some other strong connection to the state").  These seven include three Jesuit missionaries from the 1640s (Isaac Jogues, Jean de la Lande and Rene Goupil), Sisters of Charity founder Elizabeth Ann Seton (born in 1774), and 1890s Italian immigrant "angel" Frances Cabrini.  The final two of this saintly seven (i.e., Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope) will be canonized shortly. 

Wikipedia explains that Kateri Tekakwitha is "the first Native American woman to be venerated in the Roman Catholic Church."  She was born circa 1656 near present-day Auriesville, New York.  The daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Roman Catholic Algonquin mother (who had "been baptized and educated by French missionaries"), Kateri was scarred and partially blinded by smallpox at a very young age.  After both of her parents died from this same disease, Kateri was adopted by "her maternal uncle, a chief of the Turtle Clan."

This uncle did not share his sister's or niece's fondness for the Catholic faith.  In fact, he and many other Turtle Clan members were very much against Kateri's conversion.  She was even accused of "sorcery and sexual promiscuity."  Nevertheless, Kateri was steadfast in her Catholic faith.  Father Pierre Cholonec, a French Jesuit who wrote an account of her life, quoted Kateri as saying:  I have deliberated enough…  I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary.  I have chosen him for husband and He alone will take me for wife. 

When Maria Anna Barbara Koob (later Marianne Cope) was just an infant, her family moved from Germany to Utica, New York.  Cope attended school there at the Parish of Saint Joseph.  As soon as she was able, Cope left home to pursue a religious calling through the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York.  After receiving the religious habit, Cope became a school administrator - then afterwards a hospital administrator for "Saint Josephs… the first public hospital in Syracuse."  While in that
latter role, she was also involved with moving the Geneva Medical School to Syracuse.

Wikipedia reports that  Marianne Cope responded enthusiastically to an 1883 plea that few others dared to.  This urgent request came from King Kalakaua of Hawaii, who desperately needed help in caring for his islands' leper population.  Although "more than 50 religious institutes had already declined his request for Sisters to do this," Mother Marianne (a Superior General by then) sent the king this written reply:  am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen Ones, whose privilege it will
be, to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of souls of the poor islanders… 


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


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lord's Prayer: Our daily dopamine

The Lord's Prayer (by James Tissot)
While thumbing through the January 2, 2012 issue of First magazine at a local laundromat, this (bright red) News! headline practically hit me over the head:  "THE LORD'S PRAYER

Since watching laundry go round and round within machines is about as stimulating as the average church sermon, I decided to continue reading.  After all, this was the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples.  Perhaps it - and not the sermon - should  be the real
focus of most Christian worship services.

Danish researchers at Aarhus University might concur.  This article states that they found recitation of the Lord's Prayer  by "20 devout Christians" to be "associated with the release of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that fights tiredness, depression and cravings)…"

These same 20 Christians were also asked to recite "a personal prayer…  a rhyme and wish to Santa Claus."  Although the personal prayer was also associated with a dopamine release, the Lord's Prayer "had more than double the positive effect."  On the other hand, the rhyme and wish to Santa Claus actually "decreased
the activation of this dopamine-releasing part of the brain."

In the Lab Times 4-2009 issue, there is a "Research Letter" by Tahor Grundtvig titled "Praying for Dopamine."  Grundtvig details the process by which the Aarhus University researchers came to favorable
conclusions about the Lord's Prayer.  The "20 healthy young Christians (14 women, 6 men)" were asked "to stick their heads into an fMRI scanner and start praying intently!"  Grundtvig also points out that these "20 carefully selected subjects" all regularly practiced the Lord's Prayer…"


First for women, 1/2/12, page 43

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Aging creatively

(Photo by Chalmers Butterfield)
Why just age when you can age creatively?  And why go it alone when the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) in Washington, D.C. is so willing to assist?

This organization, founded in 2001, is dedicated to building programs that strengthen the vital bond between creative expression and healthy aging.  The good news is that you don't have to be a Grandma Moses in order to benefit from creative expression.  NCCA has found that creative expression "is important for older people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds,
regardless of economic status, age, or level of physical, emotional, or cognitive functioning."

Amanda Gardner of HealthDay reports on a 91-year-old woman with dementia-related short-term memory loss who astonished her
writing-workshop group "with her story about Homer the Artistic Turtle."  Although she had formerly been a good writer, people were surprised that the dementia had not robbed her of this skill.  Anne Basting, Director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, explains:  People look at dementia as loss and deficit.  They never assume people with dementia can grow or learn anything [but] that's what we're witnessing:  growth and expression and skill-building.  Basting also specified that artistic expression can foster an improved sense of well-being and belonging.

The NCCA website features stories of elders who creatively contribute to the world at large.  One such elder, 96-year-old Helen Young, is the sister of Peace Pilgrim, the late activist who walked across the U. S. during the 1950s garnering support for world peace.  Young continues her sister's work by lecturing and
participating in peace walks and vigils.  She is also a devoted Yoga practitioner.


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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Saint Luke the Polymath

Saint Luke the Artist (by Guercino)
Although Saint Luke is righteously called "the Evangelist" - he could also be rightfully called "the Polymath."  That's because he not only excelled at devotion, but (according to various Christian traditions) also at writing, history, art and medicine.

Wikipedia reports that Luke "was a Greco-Syrian physician" who lived in Antioch.  He is often presumed to have authored the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles.  If so, then these writings show that Luke was an educated man with a wide range of vocabulary.  They also indicate to many that Luke was an excellent historian.

Archaeologists such as Sir William Ramsay have believed that Luke is an "historian of the first rank."  This is because of Luke's accurate descriptions of "towns, cities and islands," as well as his correct naming of "various official titles."  Although biblical scholars recognize Luke's tendency to interpret history according to his "apologetic interests," he is still often viewed as being in line with "ancient standards of historiography."  (However, there are also scholars such as Robert M. Grant who note the "statistical improbabilities" and "chronological difficulties" in some of Luke's accounts.)

Luke the Artist is said to have been the first icon painter.  He is thought to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul.  Beliefs about Luke's icons have been especially prevalent within Eastern Orthodoxy.   


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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Euthanasia: A slippery slope?

Nazi Poster (circa 1938)
George V of England was a heavy smoker who suffered from long-term respiratory problems.  On January 15, 1936 he complained of a cold.  Five days later, his doctors issued this bulletin:   The King's life is moving peacefully towards its close.                                                      

Turns out that they knew this for a fact.  Their medical leader, Lord Dawson of Penn, "had ended the King's life by giving him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine." This esteemed President of the Royal College of Physicians noted that he did so in order "to preserve the King's dignity, to prevent strain on the family and so that the King's death at 11:55 pm" could make the morning edition of The Times (rather than be relegated to the "less appropriate" evening journals).

Wikipedia also reports on the Nazi so-called euthanasia campaign.  This campaign was dubbed "T4" (for Tiergartenstrasse 4, the main address of its euphemistically-named Charitable Foundation for Curative and Institutional Care).  Records show that "at least 200,000 physically or mentally handicapped people" were "killed by medication, starvation, or in the gas chambers between 1939 and 1945."

One Nazi campaign poster featured a smug-looking clinician (white coat and all) with his hand patronizingly resting upon the shoulder of a disabled-looking individual.  The poster caption reads:  60,000 Reichsmarks is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime.  Fellow citizen, that is your money too.      

Them's "slippery slope" words – especially within a recession that militates against the meek inheriting anything, let alone the right to life itself.


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

Biden and Ryan: Catholics divided

(Photo by ProtoplasmaKid)
Although Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are both staunch Catholics, what they are staunch about can (and often does) differ greatly.

According to Melinda Henneberger of The Washington Post's "She The People" blog, Biden's mother "once counseled him to put off any decision about the priesthood until after he'd gone on some dates…"  The Vice President never misses Mass, which means that his trip-planners have to continuously seek out churches that will not deny him Communion due to his pro-choice politics.  Biden, who wrote that his ideas of self and the wider world come "straight from my faith," held on to "the rosary he prays with daily" as Navy SEALs moved in on Osama bin Laden.

Ryan, too (Ayn Rand aside), has had a long allegiance to Catholicism.  Henneberger reports that he was an altar boy who remains "just as serious in his practice" as Biden.  Ryan's children attend a parish school in Wisconsin, and his many clergy friends include Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York.  Mitt Romney has described his vice-presidential running mate as "a faithful Catholic" who "believes in the worth and dignity of every human life…"

And therein lies the rub…  How that last phrase is interpreted has caused a split in the overall Catholic Church.  Some Catholics base their anti-abortion stance on "the worth and dignity of every human life." Others focus more upon the "every" in "every human life" and grapple with the many facets of what that could mean.  Los Angeles Times reporter Mitchell Landsberg quotes liberal-Catholic Anne Gindorff Heinz as
saying that Biden supports using government for "the common good."  "Like many liberal Catholics," Heinz believes that "life" must "be seen in a broader context than just abortion."   


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


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bill Nye the Evolving Guy

Bill Nye (Photo: Doobie Jefferson)
The man whom Wikipedia partially describes as "an excited, jocular science educator" didn't seem all that jocular during a recent Big Think
video titled "Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children."

In fact, Bill Nye seemed downright ominous in his exhortation to parents concerning their children's education.  The gist of Nye's warning was that parents are entitled to hang on to their "crazy" Creationist views, but they are not entitled to pass these views on to their children.  In Nye's
estimation, that's because "we need them [the kids, that is].  We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future… we need
engineers that can build stuff, solve problems."

Nye called evolution "the fundamental idea in all of life science" (that's one way of looking at it) and compared (what he believes to be) the
limitations of Creationism with "trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates."  (And so we ask the good professor:  Does one really have to piece continents together in order to meaningfully study rocks?)

As if this video weren't emphatic enough, Nye added the following during what eSchool News describes as a "wide-ranging telephone interview":  If we raise a generation of students who don't believe in the process of science, who think everything that we've come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you're not going to continue to innovate.   After reading this, "dadoffive" commented:  "Classic misrepresentation of an atheist.  Christian scientists who 'failed to innovate' include: Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Galilei, Descarte, Pascal, Newton, Boyle, Mendel, Kelvin, Planck, and Einstein, to name a few…"

Point made.  (Although it can be debated whether all of these scientists were indeed Christian…)  


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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Greece's nightmare: Nebuchadnezzar's dream?

(Nebuchadnezzar's Dream)
In a article titled "Debt-choked Greece looks to sell off islands, marinas and more," Lisa Jansen asks:  Got some cash to spend?  How about a piece of the Greek islands of Rhodes or Corfu?  

This is a very far cry from the ancient days when the Colossus of Rhodes was one of the world's Seven Wonders.  This huge (over 30 meters tall) statue of Helios (the Titan who allegedly drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day) was "constructed to celebrate Rhodes' victory over the ruler of Cyprus…"  The Colossus proudly stood in the Greek City of Rhodes for over 56 years until a mighty earthquake snapped it at the knees.  Wikipedia reports that its remains lay on the ground for over 800 years. 

It was said by chronicler Saint Theophanes Confessor that these remains were then sold to a "Jewish merchant of Edessa."  He reports that this merchant "had the statue broken down, and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels to his home."  However, Wikipedia states that Theophanes is "the sole source of this account and all other sources can be traced to him."  Some believe that this account was purposefully aligned with the biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

According to the Bible, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II "conquered Judah and Jerusalem, and sent the Jews into exile."  The destruction of Jerusalem's First Temple, as well as the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - another of the world's Seven Wonders, are also attributed to him.  In Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a "great image" with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly of brass, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay. Daniel interpreted these body parts to symbolize various worldly kingdoms that grow weaker and weaker.  In contrast, God's kingdom "will crush all those kingdoms
and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44, NIV).


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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Christopher Columbus: What he did and didn't do

(Posthumous Portrait of Columbus)
These days, "hero" Christopher Columbus has fallen somewhat out of favor.  In fact, he is looked upon as more of a villain by many.

His notorious treatment of the Native Americans he encountered has become quite well known.  What is less known is the prejudice he displayed against Jews and reports that Columbus wrote these words in the prologue to his first-voyage journal:  YOUR HIGHNESSES [Ferdinand and Isabella], as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma [Islam] and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristobal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes…  with a view that they may be converted to our holy faith…  Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from your kingdoms and lordships… your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to said parts of India…

Following Columbus' so-called "discovery of America," Pope Alexander IV issued a papal bull that "assigned" this "New World" to Ferdinand and Isabella.  Thereafter, Spanish conquistadors adopted a "Requirement" that forced Native Americans to accept "the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world" or face dire consequences. 

All this is part of what Columbus did do.  What he didn't do (according to Christopher Wanjek of LiveScience) includes the following:  He didn't prove the world was round (this had already been proven by Pythagoras in the sixth century BCE, and by Aristotle in the fourth century BCE); He didn't discover
America (unless you discount the "millions of humans" who had been living there for centuries before Columbus' arrival – not to mention other explorers such as Leif Ericson); and he didn't die in poverty (although he wasn't rolling in gold, either)…


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