“Everything You Need To Know Is Contained In a Flower.” Buddha
Excerpt: “The Immense Journey” [How Flowers Changed The World] by Loren Eiseley.
“A little while ago—about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimates time in the history of our four-billion-year-old planet—flowers were not to be found anywhere on the five continents. Wherever one might have looked, from the poles to the equator, one would have only seen only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.
Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles, there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms—the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them “an abominable mystery,” because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast… The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.”
Living 600 years before Christ, Buddha lacked modern geological and botanical knowledge. However, his wisdom about flowers rings just as true today as when he proposed it.
Even though St. Helena is a relatively small town (where everyone knows everyone else’s business) I suspect that only Tom Burke’s family, a few friends and colleagues knew that, before he became a teacher, he seriously considered entering a Catholic seminary in order to become a priest. Obviously, his children and the nearly 1000 ex-students are grateful for his career reconsideration. However, he did not entirely cast his passion for the sacred aside. He excelled at teaching science, which included the mysteries and wonders of Mother Nature. Tom and John Muir were kindred spirits. In the introduction to “The Wilderness World of John Muir,” Edwin Teal wrote this about Muir:
“Yet he was intensely religious. The forests and mountains formed his temple. His approach to all nature was worshipful. He saw everything evolving yet everything the direct handiwork of God. There was a spiritual and religious exaltation in his experiences with nature.”
For those who knew and loved Tom, there is a striking similarity between Muir’s approach to Nature and his approach to working with students. He regarded each one as a special creation of God and treated him/her accordingly. This was rarely easy and poignantly described in Pierre Lecomte du Nouy’s classic book, “Human Destiny.”
“When a child begins to speak and to think, one must not be afraid to make his brain and his memory work. The quality of a child’s memory is surprising and is rapidly lost. The coordinating power between his ears and organs of speech is prodigious and rarely persists beyond the age of ten. A child can, without difficulty, learn to speak two or three languages fluently, without an accent, but this becomes almost impossible when he is over ten years old, and at that time requires a great deal of work and effort which, at that age, arouses a contrary reaction, a protestation, thus handicapping the result.”
Tom taught the fifth grade, which has been compared to trying to herd 25 hyperactive kittens in one direction. I am sure there were many moments when even Job’s patience would have been tried, but Tom handled these with a rare combination of patience and understanding.
Tom joined the Biodesign Class of ’85 on their trip to Grand Canyon. He was almost “monk-like” regarding his attire and was satisfied taking his old army boots along. Unfortunately, the soles were worn smooth and the upper 3 miles of the South Kaibab Trail were covered with three feet of ice and snow. The scene might have been funny except he scared us half to death; “step-slip-down on his butt! step-slip-down on his butt.” Several times he skidded to the trail’s edge, only to look down several thousand feet into the great abyss. It was the longest three miles that many of us had ever ‘hiked.”
Tom was genuinely scared, but he handled his fear with dignity, humor and grace. In fact, I think that would be a wonderful epitaph for him: Tom Burke handled life with dignity, humor and grace.
Mr. Burke had a huge impact on many of his students. Whether they learned important curricular or co-curricular lessons was left up to them, but I know that some of them went on to become teachers with the hopes of following in his foot prints.
In, The Great Evolution Mystery, Gordon Taylor explains why Darwin’s Theory of evolution does not account for “organs of extreme perfection.” This includes the human eye. Human eyes contain over 100 million cells that all must function in perfect synchrony in order for people to see properly. Although ophthalmologists know much about eyes, it remains a total mystery as to how the light image, focused on the retina, can be converted into biochemical data and transmitted via optic nerves to the brain. How the brain decodes the data and displays it as a visual image is yet another mystery.
Anthropologist Loren Eiseley agrees, however, he expanded the mystery to include the origin of life, which he pointed out Darwin also failed to explain. Eiseley contended that it doesn’t matter what we call the mystery, only that we are aware that it exists. Furthermore, he opined that those who fail to acknowledge “The Mystery” are in danger of ceasing to be fully human.
Albert Einstein agreed, but expressed a more forceful position: “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
Contemplating frog eyes, and lacking a time or place for the origin of life on Earth, Eiseley alluded to the possibility that life may have come from somewhere across the “pond of space.”
“Yet whenever I see a frog’s eye low in the water warily ogling the shoreward landscape, I always think inconsequentially of those twiddling mechanical eyes that mankind manipulates nightly from a thousand observatories. Someday, with a telescopic lens an acre in extent, we are going to see something not to our liking, some looming shape outside there across the great pond of space. Whenever I catch a frog’s eye I am aware of this, but I do not find it depressing. I stand quite still and try hard not to move or lift a hand since it would only frighten him. And standing thus it finally comes to me that this is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is far more than any spatial adventure, the supreme epitome of reaching out.”
The fossil record of frogs indicates that they began to evolve from fish about 400 million years ago. However, “modern” frogs emerged about 200 million years ago. Ergo: The eye you are looking at has undergone 0ver 400 million years of evolutionary change.
With a mystery like that, is it not a fool’s errand to bicker over Creation or Evolution?
Like the classic concept of “yin-yang,” both words may reflect a cybernetic mutualism in which one word cannot exist without the other.
This is precisely what Eiseley was suggesting in his classic book, “The Immense Journey.”
If you are feeling a little spiritually deflated, enlarge the frog image and concentrate on it for one full minute and see if you can connect with 400 million years of time and change.
Perhaps it will encourage you to Celebrate the Mystery!
Although there is some doubt as to the author of the lyrics for “Jesus Christ The Apple Tree,” many musicologists have suggested that they were inspired by the Biblical book; “Song of Solomon,” 2:3:
“As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
Although the authorship of the lyrics may be in doubt, Elizabeth Posten is credited with the most popular melody version. However, the beauty, mystery and wonder of the hymn may be highly influenced by the arrangement (instrumentation) and where and how it is performed.
Understandably, there are many inspiring versions that have been sung in churches and cathedrals, however, my very favorite was produced by Thomas Moore in a CD titled: “The Soul of Christmas: a Celtic Music Celebration with Thomas Moore.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pKdbstX9PE
Organ music has its place, however, the combination of Celtic instruments and the beautiful voices of Susan McKeown and Nikki Matheson produce a deep sense of rural spirituality that conjures up visions of the Irish, Scottish and English countryside. Additionally, the mystery, wonder and poignancy are intensified when we appreciate the darkness out of which the song emerged.
The Celts were people in Iron Age and Medieval Europe who spoke Celtic languages and had cultural similarities.
In the 5th century BC Herodotus referred to Keltoi living around the head of the Danube and also in the far west of Europe. In the first century BC Julius Caesar reported that the people known to the Romans as Gauls (Galli) called themselves Celts, which suggests that even if the name Keltoi was bestowed by the Greeks, it had been adopted to some extent as a collective name by the tribes of Gaul. The Celtic ethos included severing the heads of enemies, a practice that Roman soldiers regarded as barbaric. [Some info adapted from Wikipedia]
Understandably, without the guarantee of food that modern agriculture has accorded billions of people, the Celts lived close to the earth and relied on the capricious whim of 100s of deities. They also believed in animism, which suggested that all forms of life possess a soul. The Druids were the educated sect of Celts and were responsible for religious ceremonies. This included the practice of human sacrifice which the Greeks and Romans also described as barbaric.
Modern Christmas celebrations in the US are often a mélange of customs and beliefs that range from frivolous to deeply sacred. However few people know that the practice of couples kissing under the mistletoe was derived from the Druid practice of all the men kissing the most beautiful female virgin of a village, under an oak tree with mistletoe, before she was burned as a sacrifice to the “god of the harvest.” Little wonder that practices like these are now considered pagan.
The birth of Christ radically changed various religious and ethnic beliefs and practices. This spiritual awakening, and subsequent evolution, may not have been more dramatic than within the Celtic society. As more and more Celts embraced Christ’s message of “peace on Earth, good will toward men,” the Celts became far less barbaric and far more compassionate. However, they did not give up their deep love of nature or connection to the earth.
Perhaps, one of the most beautiful examples of them blending their past with their new knowledge is the Celtic version of, Jesus Christ The Apple Tree.
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For over 2,000 years, Christ’s life, light and legacy have been rejected, ridiculed, scorned and scoffed at, however, the nearly 3 billion, self-confessed sinners, still try to follow His example and for them, Christmas Day is the most wondrous and sacred birthday celebration of the year.
“NO WONDERLAND WOULD be complete without pygmies and giants, and Mendocino did not disappoint. It may be the only place on our planet that features pygmies and giants in both plant and animal kingdoms. There is still at least one remaining sequoia sempervirens that towers over 350 feet tall, has a diameter of over 24 feet, and is over 2,000 years old. The record number of board feet harvested from a single redwood tree was nearly 500,000, or enough to build over 20 modest homes. Although the present [second-growth] trees bordering the pygmy are only 150 feet tall, they stand in sharp contrast to the nearby pygmy cypresses that can be adult at six inches tall, less than an inch in diameter, and are rarely more than 150 years old. “
Although this Mario Vaden photo was taken in Humboldt County, there is one remaining Giant Sequoia Sempervirens left in Mendocino County. It was a seedling before Christ was born and has survived over 2,000 years of Earth’s history.
This photo shows the difficulty this girl is having trying to wrap her arms, mind and spirit around this powerful, majestic tree. Interestingly, her arm-span looks to be about 5 feet, which would make the diameter of this tree over 20 feet.One of the greatest American socio-educational failures is that, in a nation with such a rich abundance of natural wonders, very few inner-city kids will ever experience the rapture and wonder of wrapping their arms around trees like this. Little wonder they often turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their senses to the ravages of poverty and deprivation. There has been a cataclysmic breakdown of the traditional nuclear family and parents and children are dying from broken spirits, thus broken hearts.
After writing this, I was reminded of a paragraph of John Muir’s writing.
“After I had lived many years in the mountains, I spent my first winter in San Francisco, writing up my notes. I used to run out on short excursions to Mt. Tamalpais, or hills across the bay, for rest and exercise, and I always brought back as many flowers as I could carry. It was most touching to see the quick and natural enthusiasm in the hearts of the ragged, neglected, defrauded, dirty little wretches of the Tar Flat water-front of the city I used to pass through on my way home. As soon as they caught sight of my wild bouquet, they quit their pitiful attempts at amusement in the miserable city streets and ran after me begging for a flower.“Please, Mister give me a flower—give me a flower, Mister,” in a humble begging tone as if expecting to be refused. And when I stopped and distributed the treasures, giving each a lily or daisy or calachortus, anemone, gilia, flowering Dogwood, a spray of Ceanothus, Manzanita or a branch of Redwood, their dirty faces glowed with enthusiasm while they gazed at them and fondled them reverently as if looking into the faces of angels of heaven It was a hopeful sign, and made me say: ‘No matter into what depths of degradation humanity may sink, I will never despair while the lowest love the pure and beautiful and know it when they see it.’”
Muir was considered a “fool” for predicting that all of the Giant Redwoods could be cut down. Even though he founded the Sierra Club, and other conservation groups, like Save The Redwoods, followed his lead, 95% of the virgin Redwood Forest was logged. Currently, approximately 5% remains, 3% is protected in National and State Parks and 2% is privately owned.
Thank you to those who have wondered if we are OK here in the Napa Valley. Although the fire is called, “The Valley Fire,” it did not reach Napa Valley. Miraculously, rains on Wed. 9-16-15 slowed the firestorm and hopefully it will be contained in northeast Napa County, just north of Aetna Springs.
Saturday, 9-12-15, 9:30 PM:
A caravan of fire trucks roared through downtown St. Helena with sirens screaming. I thought it was odd because the community siren (that alerts our local volunteer firemen) had not sounded. I went outdoors to investigate. The engines were headed north so it seemed logical to look in that direction. Mountains to the west and north border our property, however, I could see a very scary red glow above the horizon through notch in the north-facing mountain. My knees trembled as panic-induced adrenaline surged through my veins. And if that weren’t enough, I got a whiff of the acrid smell of forest-fire smoke. All of Nature’s calamities can be terrifying, however, being consumed by fire must be the most horrifying way to die. I had no idea where the fire was, but a quick call to the SHPD information # informed me that there were no fires in Napa County. Somewhat relieved, but still curious, I Googled “Cal-Fire” for any information. The site noted that a fire was burning on Cobb Mountain, about 30 miles north of us in Lake County. This piqued my interest because 50 years ago I lived on Cobb Mt. and started my teaching career at Middletown High School.The fire was still relatively small and I went to bed assuming that ever-dutiful Cal-Fire would respond quickly and bring the fire under control. It was a huge misassumption. As a 37-year veteran biology teacher, I used to tell my students that man exists at the pleasure of Nature and not the other way around. 24 hours later, that law became a horrible reality as I discovered that in less than 24 hours over 50% of the town of Middletown had been scorched to the ground.
Amazingly, the firefighters were able to save all of the schools in Middletown, as well as the little one-room elementary “schoolhouse” on Cobb Mountain. However, the Middletown superintendent of schools just announced that, although all schools were saved, major smoke-damage and ash issues need to be corrected. The Middletown High School principal lost his home, as did 35 other teachers and school district employees. The latest info from Cal-Fire indicates that over 600 homes have been destroyed.
I only taught three years there, but I established ties with students that will last for a lifetime. It was devastating to see these students (now grandparents) interviewed on the media and posting their stories on Fb. The firestorm roared through town so fast that some residents left their homes in their pajamas and slippers. Veteran firefighters described the fire as like nothing they had ever seen.
Several emergency evacuation shelters were quickly established, including one at he Napa County Fairgrounds located at Calistoga, Ca. The response to requests for food, supplies and clothing from the Bay Area has been astounding. A nurse volunteered to help anyone with health issues. A local Vet offered his services to any of the large and small animals that needed assistance. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with meals, sorting through mounds of clothing trying to match what is available with what is needed and scores of other chores. Many of these volunteers are Calistogans, but some have come from Sacramento, San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. A convoy of trucks and trailers with hay, alfalfa, clothing, sundries and toiletries arrived at Middletown from Humboldt County. Costco, Wal-Mart, and many other commercial business, have donated food and supplies. Calistoga merchants and merchants from all over Napa County, have donated food, equipment and supplies. Christie and I visited the shelter to drop off some camping equipment. It was overwhelming to see over 1,000 men, women and children trying to resettle in RVs, trailers, tents and the large pavilion hall with sleeping cots.
This is a tragic story from which some may never fully recover. To date, one woman and two men were trapped and perished in the fire. However, the fire has also provided the dreaded opportunity for people to act in extraordinary ways. Over 3,500 ground firefighters; bulldozer operators, helicopter and retardant bomber pilots literally put their lives on the line, trying to quell the raging inferno. Neighbors helped neighbors protect their homes or with rapid evacuation.
Events like these can be a sobering reminder that life is precious and fragile and should not be taken for granted. We live in a time when science and technology can avert many potential natural disasters, however, Mother Nature can be cruel and indifferent with her forces that shape the Earth. In a tragic irony, Middletown High School was scheduled to celebrate their Homecoming football game this weekend.
The Red Cross was the appointed lead emergency organization, but unfortunately they experienced some glitches before they achieved reasonable command, control and co-ordination of the numerous groups that wanted to help. Understandably, mobilizing and directing personnel to meet the instant needs of 1,000 people can be daunting. San Francisco and Tokyo are both multi-million, high-density populations that are built on, or dangerously close to major tectonic plate fault lines. It is sobering to wonder how FEMA or the Red Cross could handle a crisis with over 1 million casualties.
One amazing example of the human potential to cope with unspeakable adversity was recorded on one of the Bay Area news shows. A grizzly-faced man, in his mid-70’s, was asked by a reporter how he was faring. He twisted his face into a difficult smile and said, “Well I lost my car, house and all of my possessions, but I have my dog and a tent to sleep in so at least I am not homeless.”
I was supremely blessed to have slept on top of The Dome with 20 biology classes (when it was still legal). Each night offered a transcending experience that altered how I saw Nature, humanity and God. Like The Velveteen Rabbit becoming “real,” transcending experiences can be soul-transforming and last forever.
John Muir, Henry Thoreau and R.W. Emerson were proponents of the transcending power of Nature. The three men were not necessarily referring to single event, but events that can occur many times in wilderness settings. Although they may or may not involve an experience with a Supreme Being, Muir welcomed his followers to “come to the mountains and be ‘born again.’” It is not uncommon for people to have “out-of-body” experiences where their spirits are free to roam in the universe. Somehow, words like infinity and eternity often take on a deeper meaning. In fact, if dangling your feet over 4,800 of “free air” on the “Diving Board,” on top of Half Dome, does not move you, you may not have a spirit-pulse. One of the common results of transcending experiences is goosebumps. Goosebumps are the autonomic nervous system’s response to foreign (wilderness) events. The ancient part of the brain seems to comprehend that there are no words to describe the experience and a surge of adrenaline is released by the endocrine system to prepare the body for a “fight-or-flight” reaction. Spiritual fights and flights are often quite scary.
Excerpt: Biodesign Out For A Walk, Chap. 4, A Class Is Born.
“When we got to the top of Half Dome, we began to explore. I was drawn to the edge and amazed by the grandeur. I saw a slab of rock, known as The Diving Board, projecting out over the edge and into Yosemite Valley. The slab was about six-feet wide, twelve- feet long and about four-feet deep. I carefully inched my way out. Slowly, slowly, I decided to focus on the rock and not look down. When I got to the end, I very carefully stuck one leg at a time over the edge. After I was settled, I leaned over and looked down be-tween my legs into 4,800 hundred feet of “free air.” At first, I couldn’t breathe, and then my balls jumped up into my chest. I was about to explode. My heart was pounding. I thought if an earthquake hits now, it’s all over. I quickly got back on my knees, carefully pivoted, and crept back to safety.”
Intuitively, Toby described a powerful, visceral reaction to his transcending experience.
One year, the day that the Biodesign Class returned to school after their 6-day Yosemite trip, a group of them were out on the quad jubilantly discussing their experience. One of the senior boys, who was a vocal critic of the Class and me, approached a newly returned buddy and asked, “So, have you changed”? The Biodesigner beamed broadly and exclaimed, “You bet and it feels great.” His friend snorted and replied, “It’s just like I said, that Class is nothing more than a religious cult.”
One of my favorite Zen koans claims, “No two people have ever met and departed unchanged.” The same can be said for wilderness experiences. No “normal” human can enter the wilderness and emerge unchanged. Transcendence is a beautiful spiritual gift.
Warning: Henry Van Dyke’s epic poem, “THE GRAND CANYON,” is “soul food” and beyond the “fast-food” attention span. However, it just might be the most important poem you will ever read.Van Dyke plumbs the depth of Grand Canyon and the depth of the human soul. He challenges believers and non-believers to set aside their baggage of religious and scientific bias, pettiness, myths and shallow thinking and become one with Grand Canyon. Van Dyke concedes that, like the words infinity and eternity, Grand Canyon cannot be defined yet, as a poet, he cannot contain himself. There are one-liners galore that will convict, cajole, console, compel, comfort and inspire. Nothing will compare with hiking Grand Canyon, however, Van Dyke’s poem offers a hint of the mystery of transcending the human body and briefly becoming “at one” with the universe.
What makes the lingering Night so cling to thee?
Thou vast, profound, primeval hiding-place
Of ancient secrets,–gray and ghostly gulf
Cleft in the green of this high forest land,
And crowded in the dark with giant forms!
Art thou a grave, a prison, or a shrine?
A stillness deeper than the dearth of sound
Broods over thee: a living silence breathes
Perpetual incense from thy dim abyss.
The morning-stars that sang above the bower
Of Eden, passing over thee, are dumb
With trembling bright amazement; and the Dawn
Steals through the glimmering pines with naked feet,
Her hand upon her lips, to look on thee!
She peers into thy depths with silent prayer
For light, more light, to part thy purple veil.
O Earth, swift-rolling Earth, reveal, reveal,–
Turn to the East, and show upon thy breast
The mightiest marvel in the realm of Time!
‘Tis done,–the morning miracle of light,–
The resurrection of the world of hues
That die with dark, and daily rise again
With every rising of the splendid Sun!
Be still, my heart! Now Nature holds her breath
To see the solar flood of radiance leap
Across the chasm, and crown the western rim
Of alabaster with a far-away
Rampart of pearl, and flowing down by walls
Of changeful opal, deepen into gold
Of topaz, rosy gold of tourmaline,
Crimson of garnet, green and gray of jade,
Purple of amethyst, and ruby red,
Beryl, and sard, and royal porphyry;
Until the cataract of colour breaks
Upon the blackness of the granite floor.
How far below! And all between is cleft
And carved into a hundred curving miles
Of unimagined architecture! Tombs,
Temples, and colonnades are neighboured there
By fortresses that Titans might defend,
And amphitheatres where Gods might strive.
Cathedrals, buttressed with unnumbered tiers
Of ruddy rock, lift to the sapphire sky
A single spire of marble pure as snow;
And huge aerial palaces arise
Like mountains built of unconsuming flame.
Along the weathered walls, or standing deep
In riven valleys where no foot may tread,
Are lonely pillars, and tall monuments
Of perished aeons and forgotten things.
My sight is baffled by the wide array
Of countless forms: my vision reels and swims
Above them, like a bird in whirling winds.
Yet no confusion fills the awful chasm;
But spacious order and a sense of peace
Brood over all. For every shape that looms
Majestic in the throng, is set apart
From all the others by its far-flung shade,
Blue, blue, as if a mountain-lake were there.
How still it is! Dear God, I hardly dare
To breathe, for fear the fathomless abyss
Will draw me down into eternal sleep.
What force has formed this masterpiece of awe?
What hands have wrought these wonders in the waste?
O river, gleaming in the narrow rift
Of gloom that cleaves the valley’s nether deep,–
Fierce Colorado, prisoned by thy toil,
And blindly toiling still to reach the sea,–
Thy waters, gathered from the snows and springs
Amid the Utah hills, have carved this road
Of glory to the Californian Gulf.
But now, O sunken stream, thy splendour lost,
‘Twixt iron walls thou rollest turbid waves,
Too far away to make their fury heard!
At sight of thee, thou sullen labouring slave
Of gravitation,–yellow torrent poured
From distant mountains by no will of thine,
Through thrice a hundred centuries of slow
Fallings and liftings of the crust of Earth,–
At sight of thee my spirit sinks and fails.
Art thou alone the Maker? Is the blind
Unconscious power that drew thee dumbly down
To cut this gash across the layered globe,
The sole creative cause of all I see?
Are force and matter all? The rest a dream?
Then is thy gorge a canyon of despair,
A prison for the soul of man, a grave
Of all his dearest daring hopes! The world
Wherein we live and move is meaningless,
No spirit here to answer to our own!
The stars without a guide: The chance-born Earth
Adrift in space, no Captain on the ship:
Nothing in all the universe to prove
Eternal wisdom and eternal love!
And man, the latest accident of Time,–
Who thinks he loves, and longs to understand,
Who vainly suffers, and in vain is brave,
Who dupes his heart with immortality,–
Man is a living lie,–a bitter jest
Upon himself,–a conscious grain of sand
Lost in a desert of unconsciousness,
Thirsting for God and mocked by his own thirst.
Spirit of Beauty, mother of delight,
Thou fairest offspring of Omnipotence
Inhabiting this lofty lone abode,
Speak to my heart again and set me free
From all these doubts that darken earth and heaven!
Who sent thee forth into the wilderness
To bless and comfort all who see thy face?
Who clad thee in this more than royal robe
Of rainbows? Who designed these jewelled thrones
For thee, and wrought these glittering palaces?
Who gave thee power upon the soul of man
To lift him up through wonder into joy?
God! let the radiant cliffs bear witness, God!
Let all the shining pillars signal, God!
He only, on the mystic loom of light.
Hath woven webs of loveliness to clothe
His most majestic works: and He alone
Hath delicately wrought the cactus-flower
To star the desert floor with rosy bloom.
O Beauty, handiwork of the Most High,
Where’er thou art He tells his Love to man,
And lo, the day breaks, and the shadows flee!
Now, far beyond all language and all art
In thy wild splendour, Canyon marvellous,
The secret of thy stillness lies unveiled
In wordless worship! This is holy ground;
Thou art no grave, no prison, but a shrine.
Garden of Temples filled with Silent Praise,
If God were blind thy Beauty could not be!
“You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in the universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.” – Robin Williams
When our local PBS station announced it was planning a “pledge night” featuring the1981 New York Central Park concert by Simon and Garfunkel, I dismissed it as “been there done that.” In fact, we watched the concert many years ago, made a pledge and received a “videocassette” ;o) of the concert. However, I accidentally surfed by the channel on pledge night and something very strange and wonderful happened. Christie and I were immediately transfixed. Perhaps it was because of our age, but the melodies and lyrics seemed as fresh and poignant as they did 50 years ago. We were in college, in love and their songs and perfect harmony were transcending. This was long before I became aware that music is a spiritual gift, but now I have no doubt that Paul and Art were reconnecting 500,000 fans with their spiritual roots. The results were truly extraordinary. We sat mesmerized as waves of nostalgia washed over us as we soaked up the wisdom, passion and poetry of the brilliantly gifted pair.
They conjured up the great evolutionary debate between Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. Because there is no known genetic cause, Darwin had no clue as to why or how music evolved in humans. Wallace concluded that musical talent, mathematic and artistic genius were spiritual gifts from God. Paul Simon would agree.
After that thought passed, a magical synchronicity occurred. They launched into a sprightly rendition of “Mrs. Robinson!” Immediately, I was struck by wonder, irony and humor. Here were two Jewish young men, singing a ballad about a 45-ish-year-old, sexually liberal woman having an adulterous affair with a young man less than half her age. The musical intensity rose as they joyfully leaped into the chorus:
And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson Jesus loves you more than you will know wo wo wo God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson Heaven holds a place for those who pray Hey hey hey, hey hey hey
If the movie “The Graduate,” (1967) represented behavior that many regarded as provocative, Simon’s lyrics invoking Jesus’ love and the importance of praying were conversely shocking.
Simon wrote nearly all of the songs the duo sang and all of these thoughts prompted me to refer to Wikipedia to gain a better understanding of his talents.
In an in-depth interview reprinted in American Songwriter, Simon discusses the craft of songwriting with music journalist Tom Moon. In the interview, Simon explains the basic themes in his songwriting: love, family, social commentary, etc., as well as the overarching messages of religion, spirituality, and God in his lyrics. Simon goes on in the interview to explain the process of how he goes about writing songs, “The music always precedes the words. The words often come from the sound of the music and eventually evolve into coherent thoughts. Or incoherent thoughts. Rhythm plays a crucial part in the lyric-making as well. It’s like a puzzle to find the right words to express what the music is saying.”
His description was a perfect metaphor for the Biodesign Class. It was truly a puzzle and for 24 years, we tried to find the right words to express what Nature was saying.
I have been a fan of Simon and Garfunkel for over 50 years. Biodesigners used several of their songs in the beautiful slide-shows they created. These include: Scarborough Fair, Homeward Bound, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sound Of Silence, 59th Bridge Song and El Condor Pasa. We did not use Mrs. Robinson. LOL
It seems clear to me that Paul Simon is a musical genius. He also encourages me to celebrate the obvious, that some musicians are able to create bridges, stairways, pathways, ladders, channels and mandorlas that connect heaven and Earth. Some of their songs have lasted over 50 years and there is no reason to believe that they will ever be forgotten.
It was fun to discover that Paul Simon was born one day before me in 1941.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139 13-14
It is a stunning irony that an “uneducated” sheepherder wrote this Psalm circa 3,000 years ago! He may have been closer to the truth of our origin than many modern scientists can imagine. There is no scientific evidence for the origin of the universe. Likewise, there is no evidence for the origin of life. Most high school biology texts correctly state that scientists do not support the theory of “spontaneous generation,”however they proceed to pretend that a random act of spontaneous generation happened once, which led to all life on our planet. The video titled, How to Build a Worm, presents information that questions the logic and intellectual honesty that the origin of life was the result of random chance.
We are amazed when a chess master can anticipate all the possible combinations of pieces, five moves ahead. However, in order for a single, microscopic nematode to develop, the original zygote has to “anticipate,” perhaps billions of “moves” ahead. The egg begins with 100 million base pairs of DNA, however, many succeeding cells will differentiate into cells and tissues that were not present at the moment of fertilization. And they, in turn, may differentiate into other cells or tissues. This means that the adult worm will look nothing like the original zygote.
In discussing the importance of the miracle of “cell differentiation,” I used to tell students that without the mysterious process, they would have been born about the size and shape of a 7-pound volleyball. Charles Darwin discovered some of elementary aspects of evolution, however, cellular/molecular biologists have made a quantum leap in the fledgling science known as “Intelligent Design.” It may be the most important biological discovery in the 21st century.
The results are not unlike what happened when Edwin Hubble discovered “The Big Bang Theory.” Although The Big Bang Theory could not describe the “First Cause,” it did prove that there was a First Cause.
The same can be said for Intelligent Design. The process does not reveal a “Designer,” but indicates that mechanisms of evolution are far more complex than ever imagined and a growing number of respected scientists agree cannot be the result of random activity. Ironically, Darwin himself argued that it was “impossible” to believe that something as complex and wonderful as a human could be the result of “blind chance or necessity.” During a molecular biology lecture at a prestigious University, a student asked the professor what he thought about Darwin’s Theory. The professor chuckled and responded, “There are holes in his theory big enough to drive a Mack Truck through.”
A couple weeks later, the professor received an admonishing letter from the chairman of the biology dept. informing him that Darwin’s Theory was the accepted standard for the biology dept. and any future comments to the contrary should be avoided.
In a bizarre irony, people who support the concept of Intelligent Design are frequently condemned by mainstream biologists in a reverse form of bigotry that the Catholic Church subjected Galileo to.
I am not a church-going, Bible-thumping evangelist. However, having taught high school biology for 37 years, I can tell you that the most difficult current challenges to our teens are stress and the lack of self-esteem. These are silent diseases that drive millions of them into the world of illegal drugs, alcohol abuse and premature, unhealthy sexual relationships. Science has no answers to “The Big Questions” of human existence and all references to spirituality have been removed from our schools, therefore students are left in a vacuum with the impression that they are simply a result of a soulless accident of time. Little wonder they use drugs and alcohol.
It is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude that these precious kids are not walking around each day in a state of awe and wonder, celebrating either the poetic, symbolic or spiritual possibility that they are “Fearfully and Wonderfully made.”
If this were to happen, how many drunk-driving fatalities would be avoided? How many drug rehab centers would be closed? How many kids would avoid Juvie? How many abortions would not be necessary? And how many millions of broken families and relationships would be avoided?