Monday, September 01, 2014

Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence (Part III)



Following is a third and final excerpt from Michael Morwood's 2013 book It's Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith. To start at the beginning of this series, click here.


An appreciation of the universality of the Divine Presence challenges us to move from the traditional understanding of "God" as a divine Super Person who thinks, reacts, needs to be worshipped. keeps a record of wrongs, withholds forgiveness and access to "Himself," and rules over the world. Most of us were so steeped from early childhood in the imagination and belief about "God" as a deity in heaven that we failed as adults to stop and think about what we are imagining and from where this imagination comes from. We are taught to pray to a "God" who thinks about whether to respond. We learned a creed about a "God" who lives somewhere else and sent his son down to us. We were never educated to question the images on which these concepts were based.

It is time to move on from belief in a heavenly God whose thinking and actions mirror our rather primitive human ways of thinking and acting. We humans regard our conscious awareness, our capacity for reflective thinking, as the greatest by-product of the universe. We have consistently transferred our way of thinking onto a God, as if by having a God who thinks and loves and acts as we do, we are somehow expanding our appreciation of the Divine Presence. In fact, what we are doing is limiting our understanding and appreciation of the Presence as Mystery. It is time to stop telling a story about a God in heaven who did this and that, and who thinks this and that. The awesome, mysterious, Divine Presence is far beyond all that.

In one sense, there is nothing new in what is being said here because Christianity has always proclaimed that "God is everywhere." What is new is the scientific data we have as pointers to the Divine Presence all around us. Attention to the way energy and consciousness operate throughout the universe can lead to a deeper faith perspective that enables us to appreciate that everything around us is "charged' with the Divine Presence. We can have a heightened sense, a clearer conscious awareness, that the universe pulsates with, gives expression to, the Divine Presence.

Thousands of years ago, humans had a sense of this Presence all around them. Then, a major shift occurred. Formal religion took this Presence from the earth and placed it in the heavens in the form of gods. Later development in religious thinking led the Hebrew people to imagining and believing there was only one god, an Almighty God who ruled from above.

It is surely ironic that formal religion brought the "original sin" to the world. It removed the Divine from earth and placed it in the heavens. It was formal religion that separated humanity from a previously intimate and profound sense of the Divine here on earth. It was formal religion that led people into images and notions about exile from God. It was formal religion that told people they were basically sinful and that only adherence to a particular religion could bring them "salvation," as long as they dutifully obeyed the teachings and practices of that religion.

Formal religion took its mind and eyes and heart off the here and now and focused instead on notions of separation and on the need for mediators and priests with special powers to access the heavenly God. Formal religion established systems that made people dependent on middle-managers who could access God for them and tell them, with unquestioned authority, what God's thoughts were on almost every aspect of community life.

And all the while, the Creative, Divine, Energizing Reality, this incredible Presence that brought the universe into being, was really here on earth, being expressed in peoples' lives. The Presence did not and could not move from here. Only formal religion could make people believe otherwise.

There is a widespread shift in consciousness among people today, a shift that reflects and gives expression to the Divine Presence embedded in everything that exists. It is about people breaking free of relious images and creeds and beliefs that lock them into thinking the "next life" is what really matters. It is the growing awareness that "salvation" for the world is not about access to a heavenly God. It is about being attentive to how the Divine Presence is expressed in the human endeavor and how, in the words of Jesus, we are to make "the kingdom of God" evident in the human community.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence (Part I)
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence (Part II)
In the Garden of Spirituality – Michael Morwood
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
A Return to the Spirit

Image: Photographer unknown.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lovemaking: Pathway to Truth, Harmony and Wholeness



We know . . . the self-scripts of conventional society. We are thus fragmented within ourselves and [often] in conflict. . . . In contrast to this, when people allow their false separation to dissolve, as is sometimes possible in music or lovemaking or sincere worship, a truer individuality emerges and a harmony between these individualities is possible. When one whole human being meets another whole human being, there is no antagonism. Even if there is difference, there is respect, because the wholeness of one is not in conflict with the wholeness of the other.

According to the testimony of the most mature human beings, we have the potential for knowing all of Being, all of Reality. We can know, embrace, and participate in this transpersonal reality. Furthermore, this whole reality is the electromagnetic field of love.

– Kabir Helminski
Excerpted from The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation
Shambhala Publications, 2000
p. 9


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Getting It Right
Making Love, Giving Life
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
The Longing for Love: God's Primal Beatitude
Never Say It is Not God
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
"In Finding Myself, I Found God and My Voice"
Charis
Quote of the Day – November 16, 2011
Your Scent I Know

For more of Kabir Helminski at The Wild Reed, see:
In the Garden of Spirituality – Kabir Helminski
Thoughts on the Feast of the Ascension

Image: Photographer unknown.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence (Part II)



Following is a second excerpt from theologian Michael Morwood's 2013 book It's Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith. As with the first excerpt I shared, this one focuses on the Divine Presence, an understanding that the word "God" points to a Mystery that permeates everything that exists. For Morwood, patterns of the Divine Presence can be seen expressed in humanity whenever we choose co-operation and sharing over violence and domination. We also see, says Morwood, "that 'salvation' for humanity is linked to living in harmony with and respect for one another."


One of the major scientific developments in recent decades is the shift from understanding the world around us in purely physical or material terms, as if everything from atoms to galaxies operated like machines and that everything could be reduced to its working parts. Those of us who are older will remember studying physics in school. It was all rather simple: a case of learning what went with what, and knowing the laws explaining the how and why of what happened.

Nowadays science finds itself speaking in terms of mystery and wonder as it tries to explain the how and why of reality. How and why, at the deepest level of matter, particles get together with other particles to form atoms, atoms get together with other atoms to form molecules, molecules get together and form single cells, and single cells get together and form multi-cellular life. How, for example, do sixty trillion cells in our bodies know what to do? How do some cells in an embryo "know" to form a set of ears, and other cells produce a heart and other cells produce kidneys?

These processes of development can no longer be adequately explained in purely physical terms, as if this goes with that and that goes with this and look what happens. Science acknowledges something deeper within the very fabric of matter, something that is more than matter. Energy is working in tune with some organizing principle that is not physical. Scientists refer to this as "consciousness" or "mind" operating at every level of matter. This is not the consciously aware "mind" that we humans exercise, but mind/consciousness that is an essential aspect of physical reality itself.

Energy does not think. Consciousness does not think. A particle does not think, an atom does not think. The cells in our bodies do not think. The universe expands and develops in ways of relating and acting that make our human mode of thinking and acting slow and cumbersome in comparison.

As we study the unfolding of matter throughout the universe and study the development of life on this planet, it seems there is inbuilt into matter the capacity to co-operate with other entities in order to produce something beyond each of the entities. Cells have the capacity to organize themselves, to maintain and repair themselves, to store and remember information and to call upon it when needed, and to work in harmony with other cells to produce the wonders of a flower, a bird, the human body. There is an inbuilt system of intentionality in the constant movement to development, to produce something beyond the co-operating cells themselves,. And there is no thinking involved in this process, not the way we humans experience thinking. Each of sixty trillion cells in our bodies produces 10,000 bio-electro-chemical reactions every second. The reactions need to be almost instantly correlated and set in motion. Our bodies would surely be in a mess if each cell had to stop and think about what it needed to do.

This capacity to self-organize and to work in relationship with other entities is universal. Without it, the universe could not have produced galaxies or stars or planets or life on earth. Here, on earth, the same pattern is the driving force of evolution. Scientists insist that co-operation, not survival of the fittest or domination, is the key pattern in the emergence of life.

Let us explore how this basic information might shape our understanding of "god" as a universal Presence underpinning all that has ever existed.

If we take seriously that energy and consciousness are all-pervasive and woven into the very fabric of reality then this knowledge could be the best means we have for a deeper understanding or appreciation that the Divine Presence is everywhere. This is not to suggest in any way that the Divine Presence can be reduced to energy or consciousness. Rather, the information helps us to appreciate universality on a grand scale. When we recognize patterns operating on such a vast scale, we can use these patterns as contemporary pointers to the Divine present and active always and everywhere in the universe. This is not some sort of pantheism. The Divine Presence is more than the universe or the world around us and far more than anything we can comprehend in human notions.


To be continued.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence (Part I)
In the Garden of Spirituality – Michael Morwood
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
A Return to the Spirit

Image: Photographer unknown.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Can You See the Lark Ascending?"


A compilation of reviews of Kate Bush's
triumphant return to the stage.



Few comebacks in pop history have inspired as much anticipation as "Before the Dawn," Kate Bush's momentous return to the stage. The first of 22 shows in a run at the Hammersmith Apollo left fans and admirers assured of the lady's unique place in the canon of innovators and icons. Where her peer Madonna has made a career of co-opting trends, Bush has kept aloof charting her own singular course.

"Before The Dawn," with its beguiling blend of dramatic invocations of the natural world, its combinations of folk, classical, world music and wide range of theatrical disciplines – drama, film, mine and slapstick, brilliantly set the bar for pop as a mature art form.

At 56, Kate Bush's influence on music makers across the generations is vast but her reclusive mystique is also a major part of her legend.

– Gavin Martin
Excerpted from "Kate Bush: First Review of 'Before The Dawn'"
The Mirror
August 26, 2014





[T]hings began relatively conventionally, with Bush trooping on barefoot at the head of a procession of backing singers, opening with "Lily" from 1993's The Red Shoes. If she was nervous after so long away from the stage, she didn't show it. "Where have you been?" she enquired politely, in the manner of an eccentric aunt welcoming some long-lost family members in for tea. "It's so good to see you all."

– Mark Sutherland
Excerpted from "Kate Bush Returns to the Stage in Spectacular Fashion"
Rolling Stone
August 27, 2014



Over the course of nearly three hours, Kate Bush's first gig for 35 years variously features dancers in life-jackets attacking the stage with axes and chainsaws; a giant machine that hovers above the auditorium, belching out dry ice and shining spotlights on the audience; giant paper aeroplanes; a surprisingly lengthy rumination on sausages, vast billowing sheets manipulated to represent waves, Bush's 16-year-old son Bertie – clad as a 19th-century artist – telling a wooden mannequin to "piss off," and the singer herself being borne through the audience by dancers clad in costumes based on fish skeletons.

The concert-goer who desires a stripped down rock and roll experience, devoid of theatrical folderol, is thus advised that "Before the Dawn" is probably not the show for them, but it is perhaps worth noting that even before Bush takes the stage with her dancers and props, a curious sense of unreality hangs over the crowd. It's an atmosphere noticeably different than at any other concert, but then again, this is a gig unlike any other, and not merely because the very idea of Bush returning to live performance was pretty unimaginable twelve months ago.

– Alexis Petridis



Eighteen months in the making, and with a running time of nearly three hours plus interval, it was clear from the outset that we were here to see a piece of theatre rather than a concert. That said, the first of the three acts is surprisingly spare as Kate gives herself not much more to do than a lot of gesturing, pointing and small, slightly awkward twirls around the stage. The focus is entirely on her voice and the flawless musicianship of her seven-strong band, though lighting designer Mark Henderson deserves every ounce of praise for his outstanding contributions. There are no dancers, no props, no distractions, just humble, happy Kate and a five-piece chorus starring her 16-year-old son and "Before The Dawn" 'creative advisor' Bertie, who claps his hand over his heart when mum reveals the extent of his involvement in bringing her back to live performance.

– Alan Pedder
Excerpted from "Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo, 26/8/14"
Drowned in Sound
August 27, 2014



[Kate Bush's] legacy, arguably, would have been diminished somewhat if her comeback concert had been a cheesy cabaret retread of her greatest hits, a West End-style production of Kate Bush: The Musical. . . . It's a monumental relief, then, to see her returning resolutely on her own terms, putting on a show which, perhaps pointedly, features nothing from her 1979 setlist, drawing instead on just four albums: Hounds of Love, The Red Shoes, Aerial and 50 Words for Snow, indicating a refusal to retread her juvenile footsteps and hinting that those are the records which, whether due to recentness of release date or thematic factors, she's particularly feeling at the moment.

– Simon Price
Excerpted from "An Ultrahuman: Kate Bush Reviewed Live"
The Quietus
August 27, 2014



[T]here was something daring, sly even about returning to the West London venue of her brief 1979 three show run [right], begging comparison with her younger self, or maybe trying to obliterate it. The first quarter of the show seem determined to do the latter. Bush boldly strode out in front of her band and backing singers in bare feet and an extravagantly tassled jacket that made her look like a cross between Loretta Lynn and Sandie Shaw. There was something touchingly gauche and bashful about her as she awkwardly twirled around the stage. Yet while her stage craft might have been creaky, her voice was an undiminished roar, surprisingly rich and powerful after such a long break.

– Bernadette McNulty
Excerpted from "Kate Bush: 'Still Wondrous, Rich and Powerful'"
The Telegraph
August 26, 2014



No longer the limber teen goddess in tight fitting leotard who graced stages in 1979, Bush [pictured at left in 2012] took the stage with the seasoned grace of a grand dame, in control of her own theatrical world and beautifully attuned to the musical resonances within it. With a superbly marshalled band recreating both favourites and obscurities from her back catalogue she gave an object lesson in growing old gracefully. At the same time she expanded the parameters of what is possible on a musical stage. All the while refusing to conform to, inevitably male, ideas of how a middle aged woman's show should proceed, she used many of the technological advances made in her absence from the stage to bring some of her most potent music to life.

In a career hallmarked by firsts – first female to top the charts with a self written song, first female to have top five albums in five successive decades, first artist to use and develop the radio mic – the pressure to live up to her past must have been keenly felt.

– Gavin Martin
Excerpted from "Kate Bush: First Review of 'Before The Dawn'"
The Mirror
August 26, 2014



Backed by a band of musicians capable of navigating the endless twists and turns of her songwriting – from funk to folk to pastoral prog rock – the performances of "Running Up That Hill" and "King of the Mountain" sound almost identical to their recorded versions – but letting rip during a version of "Top of the City," she sounds flatly incredible.

You suspect that even if she hadn't, the audience would have lapped it up. Audibly delighted to be in the same room as her, they spend the first part of the show clapping everything she does: no gesture is too insignificant to warrant a round of applause. It would be cloying, but for the fact that Bush genuinely gives them something to cheer about. For someone who's spent the vast majority of her career shunning the stage, she's a hugely engaging live performer, confident enough to shun the hits that made her famous in the first place: she plays nothing from her first four albums.

– Alexis Petridis



The show can be split into four parts, starting with a traditional beginning, which almost acted like a trick false start. Bush, all in black with a fringed cape-cardigan, bare foot and hair long to her lower back, stood before an impressive seven-piece band featuring two extensive drums kits with various percussion: in the programme notes she says the two key people at the start of the project were the lightning designer and the drummer. She saw the drummer as the "heart" of the project.

The Gayatri prayer – an old Vedic mantra – opened "Lily," a track from The Red Shoes. "Hounds of Love," "Joanni," "Top of the City," "Running up that Hill," and "King of the Mountain" followed and thus ended the "hits" section of the set. Her voice sounded exquisite and remained rich, powerful and controlled through the night.

She thanked Mark Henderson, the lightning designer, and her son Bertie McIntosh, who she said had been there for 18 months and 'pushed the button' for her to do the show. "It's been an adventure and it's only just beginning," she beamed. Bertie provided vocals and acted in the part of the son and the painter later on.

– Lucy Jones
Excerpted from "Kate Bush's 'Before The Dawn' Shows Begin:
The Story of the First Night
"
NME
August 27, 2014



One of her keyboardists, Kevin McAlea, actually figured on 1979's Tour Of Life, while other bandmembers include David Rhodes, John Giblin, Jon Carin and Omar Hakim, auspicious session vets who have long moved in a world populated by Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Simple Minds, Dire Straits and Barclay James Harvest.

With . . . attention to detail, Bush, the seven-piece band and five backing singers (including Bertie McIntosh), set about recreating the sound of the original records with phenomenal accuracy. The opening six songs move with a steady relentlessness, a mellow funk, a precise digital rendering of those glassy Fairlight epiphanies, and provide Bush with a calm base to display the still-astounding potency of her voice.

– John Mulvey
Excerpted from "Reviewed: Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo"
Uncut
August 28, 2014





[J]ust as she reached the crescendo of "King Of The Mountain," there was an almighty explosion, throwing darkness, dry ice and an avalanche of notes reading the rhyme of The Ninth Wave [above] across the entire audience.

. . . Great waves of water effects drown the stage as frozen rooms rise from the ground, and Kate along with her backing performers, skates across the stage, beginning the infamous Ninth Wave segment of her Hounds of Love album; the story of a woman who . . . must take a treacherous journey to survive a frozen death out in the cold sea. As the story of The Ninth Wave is played out, we see floating houses pass the stage, helicopter spotlights over the audience, video footage of Kate clinging to life out in the open sea with nothing but a shining light and a life jacket, and gangs of skeletal fish people, all very reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton warriors in Jason and the Argonauts.

The entire audience gasped in awe, straying somewhere between ‘jaws on the floor’ and ‘clutching pearls’ throughout the entire segment, and I chewed my fingers down to stubs. These were stage effects beyond any concert I had ever seen, and Kate not only took centre stage throughout like riding a wild bull, but sang every note of it live, loud, and as criminally outstanding as the album it was first recorded on.

– Mikey Walsh
Excerpted from "Review: Kate Bush – 'Before the Dawn'"
Gay Times
August 27, 2014






It was at this point that the evening moved from being a highly impressive comeback gig that silenced any potential critics, to being perhaps one of the most visually spectacular and sonically perfect events in live popular music. Never one to be overly swayed by stage effects, it was possible only to marvel as Kate Bush and her production team brought the products of her unique imagination to life. A video of a desperate message regarding a sinking ship is followed by a film of Bush adrift in life jacket as the whole of The Ninth Wave suite is performed. This included the stage being transformed into a nightmare sea-bed scene where 'fish people' take the 'drowning' singer into the crowd and a brilliantly created 'helicopter' searches across the auditorium for her. The whole effect was an utter triumph. It was truly awe-inspiring.

– Dave Jennings
Excerpted from "Kate Bush, First Night: Hammersmith Apollo, London"
Louder Than War
August 27, 2014



[The Ninth Wave] is the greatest part of the show, as the story of a woman lost at sea is brought to dramatic life. Projections of waves toss and surge on a screen, as do heavier ones, on the stage floor, wrought in fabric. The set is like a whale's mouth, huge teeth bending in, with a back projection of our girl in her life-jacket. Dancers in strange steampunk costumes menace the stage; at the end of the set, they carry Bush away in tragic and terrifying fashion. Then there's a man phoning the coastguard, and Bush's husband and son in their living room, arguing about dad burning the dinner. This set-piece begins embarrassingly, before taking another dramatic turn: Bush turning up behind the door, unseen, in black, like a ghost. What would happen if she was lost, we all wonder, as her stunning songs, performed stunningly, ram this message home. It's an incredible half hour.

– Jude Rogers
Excerpted from "Live Review: Kate Bush's First Show in 35 Years"
Pitchfork
August 27, 2014






Act three of the show is taken up with another concept piece, this time the A Sky Of Honey disc from Aerial. The title of that album, of course, is a triple entendre. Firstly, its subject matter is, literally, things that happen in the air. Secondly and thirdly, Bush is both an aerial and an Ariel, half lightning-rod tuning into the elements, half mythical sprite. It's crucial, in the understanding of Kate Bush, to realise that she isn't a total alien like Prince or Bowie. She's one of us, but more so. A heightened version of ourselves, a conductor of the sensual world (incidentally, it's a minor pity that nothing from The Sensual World itself gets played). An ultrahuman.

The bucolic reverie of A Sky Of Honey begins with an enchanted forest, "real" snowfall, and an almost life-sized wooden artist's mannequin. It involves slow-motion footage of birds in flight, cloud formations developing and the moon rising. The singer-dancer-actors, this time, play skull-headed bird-people, while the Rolf Harris role in "The Painter's Link" is taken by Bertie (which is probably for the best), who also performs a new song, "Tawny Moon," inserted near the end of the suite. There are attendees who, after the show, will complain that this section is boring. But, while it admittedly lacks the drama and peril of The Ninth Wave, there's nothing that's boring about the ending: Bush, wearing a giant pair of crow's wings, spreads them wide like a gothic Pygar and – for just a few seconds – flies, as if in an affectionate fuck-you to Faith Brown's famous wire-flying "Wow" pisstake all those years ago.

– Simon Price
Excerpted from "An Ultrahuman: Kate Bush Reviewed Live"
The Quietus
August 27, 2014



Act three is all about light, a chronicle of day as it turns into night. This act belongs to A Sky Of Honey, the nine-song suite that fills the entire second disc of Aerial with chirrups of birdsong and abstractions of domestic bliss that give way to some of Kate’s more out-there leanings. It’s true that nothing much happens in these songs, with a couple of notable exceptions (the flamenco breakdown in "Sunset," the crescendo of "Nocturn" that leads into the wheeling, madcap finale of "Aerial"), but, as with everything we’ve seen so far, it’s marvellously and inventively staged. As the light transforms, so does Kate herself as a wicked spell abounds. Perhaps the most moving element of A Sky Of Honey lies in the skilful puppetry that brings to life what may or may not represent Kate Bush’s son at the age he was when Aerial was born. It would certainly explain why Kate hugs his short wooden frame several times throughout the set, and why Bertie himself, while playing the character of The Painter, gets to tell him(self) to “Piss off!” Keep an eye on that puppet, if you go. He’s not as hapless as he seems.

– Alan Pedder
Excerpted from "Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo, 26/8/14"
Drowned in Sound
August 27, 2014



[In A Sky of Honey] the presiding element shifted from sea to sky; bird imagery replaced the fish; an optimistic ambient-dance rhythm entered the music. Bush played the piano and sauntered the stage with a puppeteered tailor’s dummy while Bertie played an artist painting a skyscape.

There was a degree of indulgence in having him there, especially when he gamely sang a song, yet at a deeper level it made sense. Family has always been an obsession in Bush’s music, and now it’s parenthood – a vast subject that pop has hardly mined.

One of the concluding songs, “Cloudbusting” from Hounds of Love, underlined the theme, with Bush singing the role of a son touchingly serenading his fallen father. If growing up means accepting your parents’ flaws, then so too it must be accepted, as a condition of Bush’s return to the stage, that she is not the flawless performer of fantasy.

– Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
Excerpted from "Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo, London – Review"
The Financial Times
August 27, 2014






Remarkably, the entire audience appeared to obey Bush’s earlier request not to take photos or use their phones throughout the show with a respectful, if slightly eerie silence filling the venue during the set’s quieter, more intimate moments. Onstage, Bush appeared to be enjoying herself hugely, displaying none of the nerves or apprehension you would expect of someone who hadn’t performed live in over three decades.

– Richard Smirke
Excerpted from "Kate Bush Makes Live Return Following 35 Year Hiatus"
Billboard
August 27, 2014






The ideal of transformation in song, person and spirit have long been a staple in Bush's music. Though for this show there were relatively few costume changes, her command of form was intense and delivery of content profound, transformations came time again, wondrous, uplifting and liberating. This was an astounding triumph in ways that must have surprised even her most devoted followers.

– Gavin Martin
Excerpted from "Kate Bush: First Review of 'Before The Dawn'
at Hammersmith Apollo
"
The Mirror
August 26, 2014



The first song of the encore visits Kate’s most recent body of work, 50 Words For Snow, in the shimmering form of "Among Angels." For this, Kate sits alone at her piano, exposed and, I suspect, feeling rather triumphant. There's someone who's loved you forever but you don't know it, you might feel it and just not show it . . . – a perfect summation of what has been exchanged between this most singular of artists and her singularly patient admirers. Both sides are showing it now, as the full band returns for the thundering consummation of "Cloudbusting." On top of the world, looking over the edge . . . Kate Bush has finally seen her people looking right back up at her. With 21 more shows to go, will she then retreat once more? Her face as she leaves is framed by an expression of deep gratitude, suggesting perhaps she will not.

– Alan Pedder
Excerpted from "Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo, 26/8/14"
Drowned in Sound
August 27, 2014



"Before the Dawn" is light and film and movement and theater, but also a rock show, dense, cathartic and physical. The audience, still as stones during the music, stood to cheer whenever tiny between-song intervals allowed. After the full-band final encore, "Cloudbusting," it would not leave until the tech crew arrived to dismantle the stage. “Thank you so much for such a wonderful, warm and positive response,” Ms. Bush said, with remarkable composure. She’s going to do this 21 more times?

– Ben Ratliff
Excerpted from "Vision Undimmed by Decades:
Kate Bush Returns to the Concert Stage
"
The New York Times
August 26, 2014



After the three-hour show, thousands spilled out into a damp London night knowing they had witnessed something unique. It's likely that many will wake next morning feeling they have been not only to a gig, but squeezed in a trip to the cinema and the theatre as well.

– Tim Masters
Excerpted from "Kate Bush: 'Before the Dawn' – A First Look"
BBC News
August 26, 2014





Related Off-site Links and Updates:
Kate Bush Sets New Official Chart Record – Liv Moss (OfficialCharts.com, August 31, 2014).
Kate Bush Returns: The View from the Front Seats – Adrian Deevoy (The Guardian, August 29, 2014).
Eleven Kate Bush Albums Set to Chart as Sell-out Tour Begins – Hannah Furness (The Telegraph, August 26, 2014).
Kate Bush Returns to the Stage After 35 Years – AFP/Reuters via ABC News (August 27, 2014).

UPDATE: Fans Tell Kate World Awaits After She's a Hit on Her ReturnExpress (August 28, 2014).

For more of Kate Bush at The Wild Reed, see:
Quote of the Day – August 17, 2014
Wow!
Scaling the Heights
"Oh, Yeah!"
Celebrating Bloomsday in St. Paul (& with Kate Bush)
"Rosabelle, Believe . . ."
Just in Time for Winter
"Call Upon Those You Love"
A Song of Summer

To view the canvas created by Timorous Beasties for Kate's "Before the Dawn" performance, click here.

NOTE: This post's title is a line from the "Prologue" of Kate Bush's A Sky of Honey suite (which is the second disc of her 2005 album Aerial). "The Lark Ascending" is also the title of a poem by the nineteenth-century English poet George Meredith. In 1909 it was developed into a "pastoral romance for orchestra" by Vaughan Williams. The first orchestral performance of "The Lark Ascending" took place in London on June 14, 1921, under conductor Adrian Boult.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Debunking Paul Johnson's Gay Reading of Song of Songs

One of the most consistently popular posts at The Wild Reed is the April 2, 2008 post "Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Poem." In this post I reprint a review by Jim Kepner (from the International Gay and Lesbian Review) of Dr. Paul R. Johnson’s out-of-print book, The Song of Songs, A Gay Love Poem (Fidelity Press, 1995).

Recently, "Michael," an artist, calligrapher, and translator of Hebrew poetry (who blogs at About Soul and Gone), took to task Johnson's interpretation of the Song of Songs. Rather than let Michael's well-written and informed critique of what he careful shows is Johnson's fraudulent interpretation languish in the comments section of a six-year-old post, I thought I'd share it in a post of its own. I should also say that Michael's critique is not driven by any anti-gay agenda. Rather, as a scholar and translator, he is simply opposed to "specious 'research' and flagrant mistranslation."

Accordingly, I think it's important to share his scholarship. Truth is best, after all. And as Michael eloquently notes, we need to "make cases for just causes based on their justice, not mistranslation of ancient poetry. Doing otherwise is a disservice to both justice and literature."

Here then, with a few added links, is Michael's response to Paul Johnson's gay reading of the Song of Songs.

I'm admittedly six years late to this particular party, but I stumbled upon someone using a horrific mistranslation of the Song of Songs to counter an online homophobe, and traced it back to [your April 2, 2008 post, "Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Poem"]. While countering homophobia is an admirable goal, and I find Christian abuse of Hebrew literature to serve hateful ends more painful than almost anybody, [the] specious "research" and flagrant mistranslation [of Rev. Dr. Paul Johnson contained in this post] is also an abuse, and does nobody fighting the good fight any favors. I am loath to engage in Internet feuds, but it pains me that people are out there patting themselves on the back for finding a bad, agenda-ed translation of my personal favorite poem.

I speak Hebrew and have degrees in both the Hebrew language and Jewish studies, which includes a whole lot of textual history as well as linguistics, and translate Hebrew poetry and literature for a living. I have not read the book in question, but based on [the] description [shared], it is certainly a fraud.

No fragments of the Song of Songs found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (there are only four minute fragments: 4Q106, 4Q107, 4Q108 and 6Q6) differ from the Masoretic text, nor do they disprove any of the informed theories regarding its provenance (although since public and scholarly understandings of the Scrolls are wildly divergent, it's easy to fabricate research as long as you're not writing for an expert audience). While opinions vary, as they do in everything related to Biblical scholarship, almost no scholar would date the song to the tenth century BCE. Its language, which includes Persian loanwords, indicates a likely composition in the period of Persian rule over Judea (the sixth to fourth centuries BCE). The presence of Aramaisms in the Hebrew, considered in conjunction with the Persian words, also indicate a late date as far as Biblical texts. Trust me, if you speak Hebrew, the language of the Song is highly distinct from Biblical texts written earlier.

If you'd like to read a serious, agenda-free, peer-reviewed study of the Song's likely literary antecedents (Egyptian and other Near Eastern love poetry, generally heterosexual) by an actual scholar of the Hebrew Bible, check out Michael V. Fox's The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. Also try Marvin Pope's Song of Songs.

As far as other claims listed:

"Asher" is a relative pronoun, not a preposition (it is also a name, but the context in which it appears precludes that possibility). The line is שיר השירים אשר לשלמה - shir ha-shirim 'asher li-shlomoh, which is slightly ambiguous because of the preposition ל. It could mean either "The Song of Songs which is Solomon's" or "The Song of Songs which is for Solomon." Likely this is the author attributing it to a prominent historical figure to add a certain cachet to the text, which was a very common practice both among ancient Jews and in the wider Hellenistic world. (Confusing a relative pronoun, a preposition and a proper name should be your first clue that Johnson has no real knowledge of Hebrew.)

There is no neuter in Hebrew. It is a strictly gendered language (note that, as anybody who's taken Intro to Linguistics should be able to tell you, grammatical gender and biological gender have nothing to do with one another, it's just a term used in linguistics to describe a certain system of grammatical inflection, one of many). The language of the Song indicates a dialogue between, largely, a male and a female speaker, with occasional interjections from a different speaker, perhaps serving as something like a Greek chorus. It is extremely easy for anyone with a basic knowledge of Hebrew to distinguish the gender of a speaker and the gender (and number) of the object of a sentence, as all that information is reflected in pronouns and inflections of verbs and adjectives. No Hebrew scholar would "admit," parenthetically or otherwise, that both speakers of the Song are male, because it's simply not in the text.

"Yet all modern versions except that by Rev. Dr. Johnson make it appear as a heterosexual love drama." This should tell you something. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and all but one scholar forcefully assert that it is a duck, it's probably not a mongoose.

This is the text of the passage quoted, which, despite what Johnson says, is unequivocally the oldest version anyone has of the Song of Songs:

מה יפו דדיך אחתי כלה מה טבו דדיך מיין וריח שמניך מכל בשמים. נפת תטפנה שפתותיך כלה דבש וחלב תחת לשונך וריח שלמתיך כריח לבנון

(Mah yafu dodhayikh, aḥothi kallah, mah tovu dodhayikh mi-yayin we-reiaḥ shemanayikh mi-kol besamim. Nofeth titofnah sifthothayikh kallah, devash we-ḥalav taḥath leshoneikh we-reiaḥ salmothayikh ke-reiaḥ levanon.)

I don't even know where to truly begin with the translation posted, other than to say the text quoted is very unambiguous. "How pleasant is your lovemaking, my sister, bride, how much better than wine, and the scent of your oils [is better] than all perfumes. Your lips drip honey, bride, honey and milk are under your tongue, and the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon."

Caleh is not an attested Hebrew name (unless it were a masculine name meaning "impermanent," which it isn't). The word is kallah, and it means "bride." Or occasionally "daughter-in-law."

One cannot simply invent "Dead Sea fragments" in order to come up with a translation that would make any Hebrew speaker or Biblical scholar groan and shake his or her head (and I promise, Johnson has not consulted with a single genuine Hebrew scholar, and if he did, they laughed, not "reluctantly concede[d] the validity of his revolutionary word-for-word translation"). The Masoretes did not produce a homophobic text. They also did not produce a homophilic text. They reproduced a lovely poem about youthful, heterosexual erotic love.

(Also, there is no "clear naming of this thing" - any thing - "going into that thing." The Song is erotic, but it is also circumspect.)

If you want a poetic but also informed translation of the Song by Hebrew-literate Jewish scholars, try Chana and Ariel Bloch's wonderful version. If you'd like to read some brilliant Hebrew poetry that genuinely flouts heteronormativity, try the Jewish poets of al-Andalus, who wrote in love poems to men and boys in the Arabic mold.

What you've got here is not translation. It's fanfiction. Make cases for just causes based on their justice, not mistranslation of ancient poetry. Doing otherwise is a disservice to both justice and literature.

And kids, always check your sources.


Indeed!

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your expertise in response to Johnson's misreading of Song of Songs.


Image: "The Song of Solomon" (detail) by He Qi.

Photo of the Day


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In Summer Light
Photo of the Day – August 11, 2014
Helianthus annuus
Summer Blooms
Summer Blooms II
Summer Blooms III
In the Garden of Spirituality

Image: Michael J. Bayly.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Catholics Make Their Voices Heard on LGBTQ Issues

I conclude this year's Queer Appreciation series with a post that really should have concluded last year's series. Oh, well, better late than never.

Let me explain by first saying that the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the organization for which I've serve as executive coordinator since 2003, did not have a presence at this year's Twin Cities Gay Pride. This was due to a number of factors, the main one being that we're in the process of disbanding the organization.

Basically, the board feels that CPCSM has run its course. We've accomplished some incredible things in our 33-year history, including groundbreaking LGBT sensitivity training in local parishes in the 1980s; safe staff training in eight of the eleven Catholic high schools in the 1990s; publication of the first (and to date only) safe staff training manual for Catholic high schools in 2007; and the forming of the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN initiative in 2010, which played an important role in defeating the anti-marriage equality amendment of 2012,  paving the way for marriage equality in Minnesota in 2013. There's still work to be done, but we're confident that both Dignity Twin Cities and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (which CPCSM helped co-found in 2009) are more than able to carry forward many aspects of CPCSM's mission and work.

We did have a presence at last year's Twin Cities Pride. It was a celebratory presence (as this previous Wild Reed post attests) and one which involved not only our celebrating marriage equality in Minnesota, but also our surveying of visitors who stopped at our festival booth. Specifically, we invited those who visited us to complete a questionnaire so as to help us discern the future of CPCSM.



As a result of the feedback we received, the board of CPCSM, as noted above, decided that the time has come for the organization to fold. I'll say more about this later, but first here are the questions we asked and the responses we received.

_______________________________


Two hundred and twenty people completed our questionnaire. Here’s how they identified themselves (using as many of the following descriptors as they deemed appropriate):

• Catholic – 136
• Straight – 58
• Non-practicing Catholic – 42
• Lesbian – 35
• Former Catholic – 24
• Gay – 22
• Bisexual – 15
• Queer – 3
• Transgender – 2
• Other* – 20

* Included: Protestant (x3); Old Catholic (x2); Human; United Methodist; Charismatic/Evangelical; LDS; Recovering Catholic; Lutheran; Non-Catholic, Ally; UU; Unitarian; Atheist; Mother of a gay son; Christian; Discerning Catholic; Non-Catholic member of a Catholic family.


Question 1: What do you think is the most pressing area of concern for LGBTQ people in the Roman Catholic Church?

Overwhelmingly, responders said lack of acceptance (also lack of ‘tolerance,’ ‘love,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘recognition,’ ‘listening,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘dialogue,’ ‘support,’ ‘welcome’). Some noted that this lack of acceptance was from parish communities, though most said it was from the hierarchy (the ‘big church,’ the ‘institution,’ the ‘bishops.’).

Other areas of concern included:
• Equality
• Sacramental marriage
• Bishops’ anti-gay political activism around civil marriage and anti-bullying legislation
• Discrimination/prejudice
• Visibility
• Women’s rights
• Anti-gay Biblical passages
• Anti-gay preaching
• Honesty when dealing with issues of sexuality
• The misconception that gay is wrong and a sin
• Ending hierarchical power politics
• Being disowned by one’s parish
• Shared governance within the church
• Conflict resolution
• Homophobia of hierarchy
• Difference between clergy and laity


Question 2: How would you describe your relationship to the Church?

• Very active (31)
• Non-existent (13)
• Distant (12)
• Attend regularly, disagree on many social issues (12)
• Strained (9)
• Good (7)
• Strong (5)
• Went when younger, not as much anymore (5)
• Not active (4)
• Angry (4)
• Somewhat active (3)
• Haven’t found an accepting church (2)
• Faithful Catholic (2)
• Withdrawn (2)
• Challenging (2)

Other responses included: Have many Catholic friends; Just an outside viewer; The body of the church is excellent but I don’t like the top; Only attend Mass on holidays; Used to be close, but not anymore; Go to church when told but do not feel connected; Back after taking a year off; Could be better; Not strong; Seminary student; Belong to an amazing church community but the church as a whole makes me nervous; A progressive Vatican II Catholic who is active in social justice ministry, Call to Action, and CCCR; Uncomfortable; Controversial; Attended Catholic school; Love the individual, not too proud of the “organization”; Very religious; Former Catholic, now Lutheran; Generally believe most principles; Strongly against the gay lifestyle; Open/honest; Happily divorced and looking for a post divorced friendship; Practicing Catholic; Bad; In progress; Left the church because of the discrimination; Semi-practicing; Precarious; Left the church and joined a welcoming non-Catholic congregation; Catholic but distant from hierarchy; Poor; Do not like how closed-minded the church tends to be; God is #1 and the Church is the path to God; Was brought up in the Church and denied acceptance from parents for being transgender; Disgusted; More spiritual than religious; Close but concerned with the leadership; Uneven – the church does some good things and some not-so-good; Atheist; Do not feel welcome; Painful; Safe, warm environment; Cold – because of how gays are treated; Skeptical; Love Jesus and the message but the church is full of old white men who have no idea; I work for the church.


Question 3: Where do you currently find affirmation and spiritual nourishment?

• Church (51)
• Prayer (23)
• Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis (13)
• Nature (11)
• Family (11)
• Friends (11)
• St. Joan of Arc, Minneapolis (10)
• Pax Christi, Eden Prairie (7)
• Nowhere (7)
• Home (5)
• Meditation (5)
• The Bible (5)
• Music (4)
• Self-reflection (4)
• Reading (3)
• Community (2)
• Personal relationship with God (2)
• Yoga (2)
• Youth group (2)
• Myself (2)

Others responses included: Dignity Boston; Unity Church in Golden Valley; Lutheran Church; St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis; God; St. Michael Catholic Church, St. Michael, MN; AA; Recovery program; Exercise; St. Catherine University; Spirit of Hope Catholic Community; Science; Cathedral of St. Paul; Love.


Question 4: What are the issues you would like CPCSM to focus on in the future:

• Sacramental marriage for LGBTQ Catholics (135)
• Anti-bullying (130)
• Issues relating to wider church reform, such as women’s ordination (122)
• Establishment of alternative forms of (and venues for) worship and pastoral support (98)
• LGBTQ civil rights issues such as immigration reform (70)
• Transgender issues (45)
• Other* (19)

* Included: Acceptance (x4); Welcoming of openly gay people to the sacraments, including Eucharist (x2); Keeping our LGBT kids feeling whole and worthy of God’s love; Disability access – full inclusion of people with disabilities; “Get rid of the Archbishop”; Reconciling Catholicism to the fact that gay people exist; Parish-based programs of welcome; Poverty issues.

_________________________________


It's interesting, don't you think, that the number one issue that folks want CPCSM to work on is sacramental marriage for LGBTQ Catholics? Personally, I have absolutely no desire to work on this issue, and having recently worked on securing civil marriage rights for LGBTQ couples in Minnesota, the CPCSM board is also reluctant to now take on the Catholic hierarchy on this particular issue. Besides, and I speak for myself here, I don't need the blessing of the hierarchy if and when I marry the man I love. Still, it's clearly important for many LGBTQ Catholics, and something that is no doubt connected to the "lack of acceptance" many identified as the "most pressing area of concern."

The second issue that people said they'd like to see CPCSM work on was anti-bullying in schools. We've been involved in such work for some time, dating back to our safe staff training initiative in local Catholic high schools in the mid-late 1990s, and culminating in the 2007 publication of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective (which I edited and in large part wrote). Also, earlier this year the Minnesota legislature passed the Safe and Supportive Schools bill, a bill that CPCSM supported. Of course, thanks to intense lobbying from the Minnesota bishops, Catholic schools are exempt from the anti-bullying policies enacted when the bill become law. Still, many believe (or at least hope) that in time the shift in the wider society around this issue will impact the climate of Catholic schools. Also, as documented here, a leading local Catholic voice in challenging the bishops' hostility toward legislation ensuring safe and supportive schools for LGBTQ students was the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). The CPCSM board trusts that CCCR's informed and respectful advocacy on this issue will continue.

Issues relating to wider church reform, identified as important by those surveyed by CPCSM at last year's Gay Pride festival, are also very much being covered by CCCR. In particular, CCCR is working on ensuring lay participation in the selection of our next archbishop. As for the establishment of alternative forms of (and venues for) worship and pastoral support, another identified need, we have in the Twin Cities one of the most vibrant examples of this: Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community. Not surprising, Spirit of St. Stephens is hosting the 2015 national gathering of Intentional Eucharistic Communities. So, again, the CPCSM board feels that yet another local group has already assumed leadership in an area important to LGBTQ Catholics.

We hope to have some sort of celebration of the history and accomplishments of CPCSM in the fall. Once plans for this have been finalized I'll post them here at The Wild Reed, as well as at The Progressive Catholic Voice and at Sensus Fidelium, CPCSM's blogsite.


For previous posts in The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Steven W. Thrasher on the Bland and Misleading "Gay Inc" Treatment of the Struggle to Overturn Prop 8
Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that "Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters"
Sister Teresa Forcades on Queer Theology
Omar Akersim: Muslim and Gay

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Even in This Darkness"



I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.

From a message memorized in June by a fellow captive later freed,
and printed in the article, "Foley Describes Captivity in Letter to Family"
Associated Press
August 24, 2014


See also the previous Wild Reed post:
James Foley: "Prayer Was the Glue That Enabled My Freedom, An Inner Freedom"

Related Off-site Links:
James Foley's Family Shares His Hopeful Final Letter – Polly Mosendz (The Wire, August 25, 2014).
Bishop: Slain US Journalist Foley Opened Our Eyes – Jeff McMenemy (Associated Press, August 24, 2014).
James Foley: Focus on Humanity Amid Suffering – Dave Clark (AFP, August 20, 2014).
What My Friend Jim Foley Taught Me to Question – Jessica Desvarieux (The Real News via YouTube, August 20, 2014).
James Foley on the Power of Prayer – Frank Weathers (Patheos, August 19, 2014).
Remembering James Foley's Remarkable Faith – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, August 20, 2014).
Faith, Prayer Sources of Strength for Slain U.S. Journalist, His Family – Catholic News Service (August 20, 2014).
Priest Comforts Foley Family After Killing of JournalistCatholic Herald (August 20, 2014).
Pope Phones Family of Slain U.S. Journalist – Francis X. Rocca (Catholic News Service, August 21, 2014).
British Intelligence Reportedly IDs James Foley's Executioner – Dashiell Bennett (The Wire, August 24, 2014).
ISIS, Hip-Hop Jihadists and the Man Who Killed James Foley – Christopher Dickey (The Daily Beast, August 25, 2014).
One Big Question Surrounds The Murder of U.S. Journalist James Foley by ISIS – Michael B. Kelley (Business Insider, August 25, 2014).
Top Islamic Authority: Extremists Are No "Islamic State" – Sarah El Deeb (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).
Top Sunni Cleric Says Stop Calling Terrorists "Islamic" – Patrick Goodenough (CNS News, August 25, 2014).

Image: Candles are lighted on the town common during a vigil for James Foley in his hometown of Rochester, N.H., Saturday, August 23, 2014. Foley, a freelance photojournalist, was killed earlier in the week by Islamic State militants. He was abducted in November 2012 while covering the civil war in Syria. (Photo: AP/Jim Cole)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

James Foley: "Prayer Was the Glue That Enabled My Freedom, An Inner Freedom"


"Prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom,
an inner freedom . . ."

Photojournalist James Foley wrote these words in 2011, when reflecting on the 44 days he and two others were held captive in Libya. He went on to say that prayer, in this instance, also enabled "the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us." He acknowledged that such a turn-of-events made no sense, but that faith did.

Shortly after his return to the U.S. from Libya, Foley, who was raised Catholic and graduated from Marquette University in 1996, visited and spoke to members of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, his family's parish in Rochester, New Hampshire. "I knew you were praying for me," he told the community.

Foley soon returned to the Middle East, though not before raising $12,000 for the Syrian American Medical Society. On November 22, 2012, he was abducted while reporting for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse on the ongoing civil war in Syria. For almost two years nothing was heard from him, although one source says that he was "moved a number of times and passed through the hands of various captors."

Didier Francois, a veteran French war correspondent who was held with Foley for nine months before being released with three other French hostages in April, told the Reuters news agency that Foley "was an extraordinary person with a strong character. He was a pleasant companion in detention because he was solid and collective. He never gave in to the pressure and violence of the kidnappers."

Another released Frenchmen, Nicolas Henin, told France's Express magazine that Foley had been treated worse than the other captives, after militants searched his computer and discovered his brother was in the U.S. Air Force. "Because of that and as he was American he got extra bad treatment. He became the whipping boy of the jailers, but he remained implacable," said Henin.

The uncertainty and silence surrounding Foley's fate was tragically broken this past Tuesday when a gruesome video was posted online showing him being beheaded by a masked member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Notes the New York Times:

Titled “A Message to America,” the video shows [Foley] kneeling in a desert landscape, clad in an orange jumpsuit — an apparent reference to the uniforms worn by prisoners at the American military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Standing to his left is a masked ISIS fighter, who begins speaking in English, with what sounds like an East London accent. Pulling out a knife, he says that Mr. Foley’s execution is in retaliation for the recent American airstrikes ordered by President Obama against the extremist group in Iraq. . . . [After Foley's decapitation] the video concludes with the fighter threatening to kill Steven Sotloff, another American freelance journalist, who was being held alongside Mr. Foley. Mr. Sotloff is seen kneeling in the same position, in the same landscape and wearing the same style of orange-colored jumpsuit. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the fighter says.


The Obama administration has confirmed the authenticity of the video, and the Foley family has paid tribute to their son, noting that James was "a martyr, a martyr for freedom."

John and Diane Foley also praised their son's "deep courage" and his passion for reporting from the front lines. John Foley said that his son always sought to "humanize" the people and the struggles he witnessed. "He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley added.

In London, Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who worked alongside James in 2011, echoed Diane Foley's sentiments, noting that James had shone "a light into . . . dark places where dictators thrive."

In paying tribute to her friend and colleague, Real News reporter Jessica Desvarieux recounted how "Jim wanted to speak to the [Syrian] people so that we would get a sense of what's really going on. . . . He wanted to share with the world [their] stories."

James Foley himself told the BBC in 2012 that, "I'm drawn to trying to explore the untold stories. I'm drawn to the human rights side. . . . So many of the reporters are. . . . That's the inspiring thing about it."

These words of James' remind me of broadcast journalist Amy Goodman's contention that journalism, and the listening and sharing of other people's stories that it involves, is a "sacred responsibility."




Since news broke about James Foley's death I've been drawn to his story and, in particular, the role that prayer played in his life and the life of his family.

After the ordeal that he and his two colleagues experienced in Libya, for instance, he wrote of how during his time of captivity he had come to trust "some cosmic reach of the universe" to help him connect with his loved ones, his mother in particular. Drawing on his Catholic upbringing, James used the praying of the rosary to facilitate this experience of communication and connection.

Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.


James' words bring to mind those of Catholic theologian Michael Morwood. You may recall that just yesterday I shared an excerpt from Morwood's book It's Time. The focus of this particular excerpt was on "the Divine Presence," Morwood's term for the ancient spiritual understanding of God "always here, always and everywhere active in an expanding universe."

Of course, if God, the Divine Presence, is indeed "always and everywhere active," then those open to this presence and action are always connected to one another in a profoundly beautiful and mysterious way, one that not even death can put a stop to. I also believe that regardless of whether or not we acknowledge or recognize it, we are all held within, and connected with all creation through, the Divine Presence.

Prayer doesn't create this connection, this mystical oneness, as it's already and always there. What prayer can and does do, however, is attune us to and heighten our awareness of this wondrous connection. Through prayer we open ourselves to what author James Conlon describes as the "embrace of divine energy that enfolds our presence and heals our pain." It's an embrace that, as James Foley and his loved ones experienced, holds us together and provides strength, courage and mercy – a mercy which we can, like Jesus, extend even to those who grievously hurt us. I was quite moved and inspired to hear James' mother, Diane, say in an interview that in the wake of her son's murder she is praying (and asking others to pray) that she doesn't become bitter. "I don't want to hate," she says.

I hope and pray that throughout the duration of James Foley's imprisonment in Syria and right up to the moment of his death and his entering fully into the Divine Presence, that he knew that "inner freedom" he spoke about during his previous captivity in Libya. I hope and pray that he knew liberation from all that sought to undermine or break his sustaining connection, his relationship, with God; that he experienced the strength and love of the Divine Presence and thus of his family who, though half the world away, were still very much connected to him . . . and will always remain connected to him.




I purposefully chose not to include in this post any stills from the video of James' execution. As brave as he was in the moments leading up to his death, depictions of him bound and next to the psychopath who would soon brutally murder him is not how I wish to remember James Foley.

Instead I share some of the images that James took while doing what he loved most: documenting and humanizing the people and struggles he encountered while reporting on the front lines of various conflicts in the Middle East. These photos are from that part of James' Facebook page that is open to the public. They were taken in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, and show what a gifted photojournalist and perceptive human being James Foley was.

May his spirit be one with the transforming love that is the Divine Presence.
















Related Off-site Links:
American Killed in Syria a Journalist to the Core – Rik Stevens (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 19, 2014).
James Foley: Focus on Humanity Amid Suffering – Dave Clark (AFP, August 20, 2014).
James Foley Remembered as "Brave and Tireless" Journalist – Brian Stelter (CNN, August 21, 2014).
For James Foley, Covering Combat Zones a "Siren Song," Despite Time Jailed in Libya Prison – Sasha Goldstein (New York Daily News, August 19, 2014).
James Foley and the Last Journalists in Syria – Uri Friedman (The Atlantic, August 19, 2014).
Why Did Islamic State Militants Execute James Foley? – Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2014).
Militants Use British Killer as Propaganda – Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
British Muslims Blame Jihadi Subculture After Beheading Video – Kate Holton and Raheem Salman (Reuters, August 21, 2014).
Identifying James Foley's Executioner Seen as Possible, if Difficult – Christopher Werth (Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2014).
James Foley's Parents: "He Was a Martyr, a Martyr for Freedom" – Dylan Stableford (Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
James Foley's Parents: "He Was Courageous to the End"CBS News (August 20, 2014).
Foley Describes Captivity in Letter to Family – Associated Press (August 24, 2014).
Slain Journalist's Employer Publishes E-mail to Family from Islamic State – Reuters via Yahoo! News (August 21, 2014).
In Case of Slain Journalist, Negotiations, Silence, Then a Chilling Warning – Warren Strobel and John Irish (Reuters, August 21, 2014).
From Daniel Pearl to James Foley: The Modern Tactic of Islamist Beheadings – Adam Taylor (The Washington Post, August 20, 2014).
After James Foley Murder, An Effort to Stamp Out Jihadi Twitter Accounts – Elizabeth Dickinson (Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2014).
Officials: U.S. Rescue Mission Failed – Julie Pace (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
How the U.S. and Europe Failed James Foley – David Rohde (The Atlantic, August 20, 2014).
Foley Captors' Ransom Demand Revives Debate Over U.S. No-pay Policy – Ariel Zirulnick (Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 2014).
The Race to Save James Foley: The Inside Story – Cassandra Vinograd (NBC News, August 21, 2014).
James Foley’s Brother: The U.S. Could Have Done More for Jim – Liz Goodwin (Yahoo! News, August 22, 2014).
Reporter’s Execution Could Unleash U.S. Against ISIS – Rob Garver (The Fiscal Times via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
Obama's Mission Against ISIS Just Fundamentally Changed – Brett LoGiurato (Business Insider via Yahoo! Finance, August 21, 2014).
White House Calls Foley Killing "A Terrorist Attack Against Our Country" Russell Berman (The Wire via Yahoo! News, August 22, 2014).
Jim Foley, Faith, and Heroic Journalism – Sarah Christian (Millennial, August 20, 2014).
Remembering James Foley's Remarkable Faith – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, August 20, 2014).
Faith, Prayer Sources of Strength for Slain U.S. Journalist, His Family – Catholic News Service (August 20, 2014).
Priest Comforts Foley Family After Killing of JournalistCatholic Herald (August 20, 2014).
Pope Phones Family of Slain U.S. Journalist – Francis X. Rocca (Catholic News Service, August 21, 2014).
Bishop: James Foley Opened Our Eyes – Jeff McMenemy (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).
James Foley, Marquette ’96, Writing on the Power of Prayer – Frank Weathers (Patheos, August 19, 2014).
James Foley Speaks to Students About Journalism, Courage and What Inspires Him (2011) – Republished August 20, 2014 at The Huffington Post.
1,071 Murdered Since 1992: More Must Be Done to Protect Journalists Like James Foley – Howard Tumber (The Conversation, August 21, 2014).
Top Islamic Authority: Extremists Are No "Islamic State" – Sarah El Deeb (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
Prayer: Both a Consolation and a Demand
Be Just in My Heart
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All