Monday, April 26, 2010

Being Wealthy

The Tanzanians regard all foreigners as being fabulously wealthy. Relatively speaking, we are. A manual laborer here may make about U.S. $3 to $4 per day. Our dollars do go a long ways for certain items such as locally grown food, transportation, domestic help, and hand-made items.

But I think the Tanzanians are only focused on the money in our personal pockets. My feeling of being wealthy, as an American, arises not from what I possess as an individual but from other kinds of tangibles and from many intangibles.

There are the things that could be called "public assets". These include an extensive and reliable power grid; water supplies that provide clean, potable water out of the tap; sewage systems; garbage collection and disposal; and paved streets and roads. There are hospitals and clinics; fire departments; health departments; and parks, playing fields, and zoos. Then there are the intellectual and cultural resources: public libraries; museums; and colleges and universities. All of these come from what we envision, maintain, fund, and value collectively as a society, not individually.

And there are the intangibles such as civil rights and political freedoms. I remember living in Taiwan in 1971 during a time of military dictatorship. I was stunned to learn that newspapers and magazines were strictly censored; that only a few people were allowed to have passports and to leave the country; that a police officer sitting outside a movie theater could stop me for having hair that was too long.

I feel wealthy not because of the modest amount of money that Diane and I have managed to earn and save (which would not go far in the U.S.) but because I benefit immeasurably from what I have inherited from a developed, democratic country in the latter half of the twentieth century. -Earl

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.

by Denise Levertov

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

by Christina Rossetti (1896).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

Rainer Maria Rilke

[On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper", Milan 1904.]

Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming