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Victories of Spirit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, October 03 2009 09:50

Great spiritual traditions have always taught the same message: there can be no foolproof security on earth. At this point in history no one needs to be convinced of this fact. What we do need is light on how to live in an insecure world. We want to know how to adjust to a new situation marked by threats that cannot be identified in advance.

In some ways we elders have an advantage. Many of us have become used to living with vulnerability. Disabilities have made us aware that it might not take much to do us in. We realize that a simple fall on the floor of our kitchen might be enough to start in motion a chain of events that could result in our becoming physically incapacitated.

Years of coping with physical problems that cannot be healed have accustomed us to coping. Reverses in health that seemed in prospect devastating have become familiar companions. We have learned to make the best of situations that continue to be uncomfortable and threatening.

This experience may have taught us to be more patient with ourselves and more compassionate toward other people. Paradoxically enough, a new wholeness may have emerged from our brokenness and an unexpected peace or soul from our suffering. We may have become veterans in the warfare against personal disintegration, emerging with suprprising victories of spirit.

Written for the newsletter Aging and the Human Spirit in response to the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001.

Another Sweet Spot PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, September 24 2009 08:04

The subtle joy of the bat hitting the ball squarely needs no further appreciation from me. Many times previously I have celebrated the satisfaction that comes with this contact. Regrettably, however, it's a pleasure that I have known too rarely in my Sunday softball games of the last four decades. Nowadays, for lack of a vigorous swing,I almost never experience this delight.

Of late, however, I have discovered another subtle pleasure in playing the game. This past Sunday, on a beautifully warm late September day without a cloud in the sky, I made a play in the field that brought me new joy. This play made me realize that you don't have to be at bat to have access to exquisite athletic satisfaction.

As usual, I was playing first base, a position that offers much action but requires relatively little fast movement. The batter, a strong left-handed hitter, drove a fierce ground ball right at me. On instinct, I reached down with my glove without having had time to think about it. When I looked down, somehow the ball had nestled safely in the glove. All I had to do was move a few paces, step on first base, and the inning was over.

In response to this amazing play, my teammates yelled at me their excitement. Presumably they did so because their expectations for me were appropriately low. I had astonished them as well as myself.

The tactile quality of my play has stayed with me for days afterward. Shamelessly, I have described this feat to family members and friends. I cannot, however, do justice to the subtlety of the play. Seeing the ball safely nested in my glove provides ongoing pleasure in memory and imagination.

The feel of bat's sweet spot  connecting with the ball continues to strike me as precious. But now so does the feeling that comes with discovering that the baseball glove has its own sweet spot.

Secret Experimenters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, September 19 2009 09:42

Lurking among us in our cities and towns are older people who secretly experiment with truth. They have developed insight not shared by many younger than they.

Of course, the wise may not be easily recognizable as such. They do not walk around dispensing wisdom the way vending machines spew out coffee. In fact, they are probably reluctant to give any advice at all. The maxim about mystics holds here: "Those who say don't know; those who know don't say."

Who Is Wise? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Friday, September 18 2009 08:31

Who's right?

Ecclesiasticus: "Do not be contemptuous of what older and wiser men have to tell thee; by their lore live thou, if wise thou woulds't be, and have the gift of discernment."

Or Henry David Thoreau: "I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing and probably cannot teach me anything."

Let me come down somewhere in the middle. The Bible expresses the view of tradition with all its strengths and weaknesses.

Thoreau's position tells us more about him than the older people he knew. It's not hard to understand why his seniors could not teach him anything.

Older people vary in their grasp of wisdom. For some, their old age is the culmination of a life-long search for meaning. After decades of trial and error, they have arrived at understanding not accessible to them earlier.They have learned from both their mistakes and their successes.

Holy Cow! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Friday, September 11 2009 14:04

Harvey Cox combines theology with imagination as he again demonstrated yesterday in Harvard Yard. There, to mark his retirement, he shared the spotlight with a cow imported for the occasion. It may have been the first time some of the highly urbanized Harvard students standing nearby had ever seen such an animal.

The event featured several speeches and a parade from the Yard to the Divinity School. In his long career Harvey has taught in both the divinity faculty and in Arts and Sciences.The speeches demonstrated yet again how academics do not believe in speaking short. Rather, they are skilled in reducing the impact of their talk by going long instead. On an often chilly late afternoon and early evening, that fact proved difficult for this currently gimpy-legged friend of Harvey.

At considerable length we later heard the virutes of cows extolled by a professor learned in Hinduism and familiar with these animals in India. She found virtue in all the parts and  products of the cow, even its dung. Later on, the cow that was the center of attention stood patiently as she was milked. With udder fascination I watched the manipulation that produced this fine liquid.

A final act came when Soft Touch, the band in which Harvey has regularly played the saxophone struck up the Harvard marching song.

The whole event served as a model of how to celebrate the transit into retirement. I doubt anyone knows better than Harvey how to enter upon this new phase of life. He radiated a relaxed joy yesterday as his large legion of friends showed him affection and admiration. I will remember this unique circus.

Hurricane Reach PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, August 26 2009 09:56
Waves, white-capped like old men, smashing against and over rocks, show the reach of Hurricane Bill. Seeing sea-nature proves one of the joys of visiting the Maine coast. Not so good for the fishermen, but awe-producing for us onlookers.
WWJD PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, August 20 2009 08:43

The letters WWJD, popular among many religionists across America, now has a new meaning. "What Would Julia Do?" is a question anyone interested in preparing a good meal can profitably ask.

(For further information, see the fine film "Julie and Julia.")

Superiority PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, August 17 2009 09:09

A neighborhood walking tour took us, on a hot late August morning, to the three Cambridge homes of William Dean Howells. Now relegated to some obscurity, Howells was a literary lion in the America of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Besides being Atlantic Monthly editor, he wrote several novels, formerly read.

His first local home, two blocks from mine, though only a fifteen minute walk from Harvard Square, stood isolated from other houses. He and his wife apparently relished their isolation. In fact, when others started moving in, the Howells couple moved away to a posher location removed from the new arrivals. These newcomers to whom Howells objected were largely Irish immigrants for whom the writer felt contempt.

Had my maternal grandfather settled in Cambridge rather than Peabody, he would have qualified for the Howelles' disdain. No matter his fine personal qualities and his respect for learning, Richard Barry was an immigrant from Ireland, enough to make him objectionable.

Last month the Massachsetts legislature cut health care funds for some thirty thousand legal immigrants living in the Commonwealth. Presumably the legislators did so without contempt. They did not follow the federal government's shameful treatment of many more immigrants imprisoned under inhuman conditions. However, not to have access to treatment for illness will do harm to the Massachusetts imigrants and their families.

Incidentally, William Dean Howells, for his part, did not get off scot free from prejudice himself. The local Yankees looked down on him for being from Ohio.

National Shame PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Friday, August 14 2009 09:19

1) hospice services; 2) palliative care; 3) counseling on end-of-life issues. Three ideal benefits for older Americans and others in need of medical help. Any national health care reform ought to include these features at least.

To have such features portrayed as a neo-Nazi plot amounts to a national disgrace. And to have senators say that number 3 will be withdrawn almost rates as a national tragedy.

How can our nation give way to vested political and commercial interests of this sleazy sort? 

From "Home," by Marilynne Robinson PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, July 22 2009 14:55
"The manner of his doing all these things, things she had done every day for months, suggested courtesy rather than kindness, as if it were a tribute to his father's age rather than a concession to it. And she could see how her father was soothed by these attentions, as if pain were an appetite for comforting of just this kind."
Darwin's Style PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, June 20 2009 10:37
Charles Darwin, a master of English style, in late life could write: "Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste."
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