Prayer, Work & Carnival
Readers of BOFAW learned that I probably would not have included “Wayne,” were it not for a story about very mysterious “dancing frogs,” that appeared in Loern Eiseley’s, “The Star Thrower.” The thoughtful, although challenging, introduction was written by poet laureate, W.H. Auden.
“A satisfactory human life, individually or collectively, is possible only if proper respect is paid to the worlds of Prayer, Work and Carnival.
Without Prayer and Work the Carnival laughter turns ugly, the comic obscenities grubby and pornographic. Without Laughter and Work, Prayer turns Gnostic, cranky, Pharisaic. While those who try to live by work alone, without Laughter or Prayer, turn into insane lovers of power, tyrants who would attempt to enslave Nature to their immediate desires—an attempt which can only end in utter catastrophe, shipwreck on the Isle of Sirens.”
Excerpt: BOFAW. Looking up at the mighty dome and recognizing that this was usually
a once-in-a-lifetime moment was a sobering experience. Someone
asked if we could pray. I responded that they were free to pray,
but because we were a public school we would not likely find a onesize-
fits-all prayer that pleased all and offended none.
Instead, I referred them to Shakespeare who wrote, “A prayer is
an idea that starts in the heart and passes through the mind on its way
to Heaven.” I didn’t expect that anyone would object to that kind of
The “Prayer,” angle of Auden’s triad, although noted, was not always discussed. When it was, we acknowledged the U.S. Constitution and the laws separating Church and State. I usually noted that prayer was truly one of the great human mysteries, especially since it appears that man is the only animal on the planet that prays.
The “Work” angle got a lot more attention. Early each year I mentioned that the class would involve a lot of physical, mental, and perhaps “spiritual” work. The hikes up Half Dome and out of Grand Canyon were difficult. Some of the reading material was rated at college level. Preparing for each trip, camping with others, preparing food and cleaning up, all required work. But, perhaps the hardest work of all was the mental discipline necessary to engage in difficult discussions that have caused wars and millions of people to die. This often required personal growth which could be exhausting.
However, by far the most fun (and essential) aspect of the class involved Carnival.
Many of the most sacred moments in Biodesign occurred through
laughter. Their laughter was of the highest order, showing no sign of
being grubby, pornographic, cruel, or mean-spirited. They laughed
easily and often, especially at the many intimately embarrassing moments
incurred while studying, traveling, and camping together. Their
laughter was contagious and healing.
Although each student may have experienced dreadful, painful, terrifying or embarrassing moments, the Carnival spirit often relieved tension, anxiety and potentially circle-destroying stress. Every class had a clown and he/she did his/her best to diffuse difficult situations. Classroom discussions were often riddled with laughter as students discovered new and exciting aspects of their personal “biology.” On the trips, it was often like traveling with a tribe of monkeys.
The reflective papers that they presented to the class, often included riotous anecdotes. The slide-shows that they created, balanced deep pathos with comedy that often left parents holding their sides with laughter. The original skits that drama groups created at Grand Canyon left all of us rocking with belly-laughter. The book could have survived without several of the less dynamic chapters, however, it would have been a tragically incomplete without chapter 26, “Soul Medicine.” In a huge irony, the first BOFAW manuscript was rejected by about 50 literary agents. Although discouraged, I continued to rework some chapters and miraculously discovered, “Chip’s” story and “Soul Medicine.” Both of them are among my very favorites. After I retired, I went into a post-teaching funk and one of my greatest losses was the Carnival spirit that the students added to my life.