Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Searching Out a Matter

Wisdom Literature

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.”
Proverbs 21:2

I have been reading the Book of Proverbs, which I used to do many years ago, before I became distracted with other matters. There is much wisdom found in its writings, which is to be expected. Its collection of 31 proverbs instruct us how to live the good and godly life, what roads to take, what paths to avoid and, generally, how to conduct oneself in many social situations. It is as appropriate for today as it was for the time that it was written, at least 2,500 years ago.

Our conduct has to do with our hearts, not in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. For example, a heart filled with pride is often focused on self and cannot do much good for others, since it is always defending itself and its actions. Honour is not the same as righteousness, although both can appear to be the same, yet honour is often marked by resentment and anger, a path that lacks instruction and is full of strife and bitterness.

When our hearts are not set right, we know that something is not right in our innermost parts. There is an unease, an internal battle, a deep sense of  discomfort and confusion. No doubt, a person can live in this state his whole life and do nothing about it. In the beginning of the Book of Proverbs, it says that “[t]he fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).

I found this to be true; they also despise God and godliness, chiefly because they venerate only themselves. In doing so, they are listening to the message that self-worth and self-confidence can be found only in bettering and uplifting the natural man. It works, at least for some time, but when you search out the matter, your heart, you find out that this way has little or nothing to do with morality or godliness. It has everything to do with pride, even if it is wounded.

The search for wisdom is in essence, and to a great degree, a search to find out your true place in the universe, your understanding of it and what is your role and purpose in God’s economy or, rather, in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. It seems that the beginning of attaining knowledge is acknowledging that without God you will be left to your own devices, and use your own thinking to arrive at a conclusion and at a decision. This makes perfect sense for many, but it is nonetheless a difficult and lonely path. This is also a path fraught with mistakes, mishaps and missteps.

Wisdom in the biblical sense is not discussed much today, or at least I do not read and hear much about it in general mass society. This is not to say that individuals do not seek wisdom and live a life dedicated to its pursuit. Some do; and as a result they are no doubt happier for it. The opposite is also true. Such is what I found to be true, both by reading and by experience. Good intentions are never enough to do good; it takes knowledge and wisdom to live the moral life, the godly life.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Loreena McKennitt: The Lady of Shalott (1992)

Loreena McKennitt performs The Lady of Shalott” at the Canadian Juno Awards in 1992. The song is the fourth track on the 1991 album, The Visit.
Via: Youtube

The song is based on the 1842 poem, of 19 stanzas, of the same name by English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson [1809–1892]. The poem also inspired a painting, in 1888, by English painter John William Waterhouse [1849–1917], also called The Lady of Shalott, which hangs in the Tate Gallery in London, England.

When I first heard this song and the ethereal voice of Loreena McKenitt, which was shortly after it came out, I was both touched and shaken to my core; I immediately bought the CD. The song, especially the way McKennitt sings it, brings you in your mind’s eye, however briefly, to another place, otherworldly, an unearthly heavenly one.
And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
     Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
     Pass onward from Shalott.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Neil Young: Heart of Gold (1985)

Neil Young sings "Heart of Gold" at Farm Aid in Champaign, Illinois on September 22, 1985.

Other performers that day were Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The purpose of Farm Aid since this inaugural performance in 1985 is “to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.” Is this important? I think so, because it is important to have small family-run farms to counterbalance the large agri-businesses, chiefly because diversity and choice are good for democracy. The song dates to the early 1970s, the fourth track on the 1972 album, Harvest; you can view an earlier performance of it [here]. Keep me searchin' for a heart of gold/And I'm getting old.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gut Microbes & Colon Cancer

Cancer News

heal [before 12c; vb; ME helen, fr. OE hælan; akin to OHG heilen to heal, OE  hal whole
—more at whole]1 a: to make sound or whole b: to restore to health.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1987

I don’t follow scientific research on cancer as I once did, since too much of what is reported is hyped for reasons of money and fame, and thus can’t be taken seriously as good honest scientific research. Beware of breathless announcements that sound too good to be true, driven by human hubris and little more. At times, however, I come across an interesting study, one that jumps out at you.

The facts: Done at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy; its lead researcher is Dr. Cynthia Sears, an infectious disease specialist at the named Institute. In a recent New York Times article (“Gut Microbes Combine to Cause Colon Cancer, Study Suggests;” February 1, 2018), Gina Kolata writes a fairly well-researched article, whose main finding is worth noting:
Their study, published in the journal Science, describes what may be a hidden cause of colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the United States. The research also adds to growing evidence that gut bacteria modify the body’s immune system in unexpected and sometimes deadly ways.
The findings suggest that certain preventive strategies may be effective in the future, like looking for the bacteria in the colons of people getting colonoscopies.
If the microbes are present, the patients might warrant more frequent screening; eventually people at high risk for colon cancer may be vaccinated against at least one of the bacterial strains.
This sounds encouraging, but we have been down this road many times; like anything related to medical advances against a complex disease like cancer, we should err on the side of caution and be cognizant of the facts. We can’t forever plead ignorance. Medical researchers have been talking about developing vaccines against cancer for years now; yet in the last few decades only two have been approved as effective (i.e., against HPV and Hepatitis B).

This tells me that vaccines are not easy to make. We shall see what we shall see. We would like to see the end of colon cancer, of cancer in general. So, who knows if this will happen now or in ten years? Or in a 100 years? We have more knowledge, but it has not necessary led to cures; cancer is not a simple disease. The best and most sincere medical scientists try their best, putting their knowledge and understanding to good use to try to outsmart cancer.

Even so, I am reminded of this, speaking from personal experience: you are treated for cancer, which is not the same as being cured or healed (restored to health or made whole) from cancer. Although you might be free from the disease, personal experience informs me that you can never return to your old self, which, depending on how you view things, might not be so bad. It can be good, making you focus on what is important, getting rid of the dross. Liberating.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Neil Diamond: I Am... I Said (1971)

Aspirational Change

Neil Diamond [born in Brooklyn, NY in 1941]: I Am... I Said (1971), a song about personal aspirations and fears, the type written by persons on the cusp of change.

I was saddened by the news of Mr. Diamond’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease; and as a result, he recently announced that he will stop touring, which he had done commendably and remarkably for more than 50 years. His music has brought much joy to millions of people around the world, and the songs are much more reflective than some critics say, tapping into universal fears: But I got an emptiness deep inside/And I've tried/But it won't let me go/And I'm not a man who likes to swear/But I never cared for the sound of bein' alone.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Patti Smith: Changing of the Guards (2007)

Patti Smith [born in 1946 in Chicago] singing her wonderful interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guards,” the seventh track on her tenth studio album Twelve (2007), her album of cover songs.
Via: Youtube

This one was written and released in 1978 by Bob Dylan, the poet-songwriter who was given the Nobel Prize in Literature (2016) for his words to us. You can view Dylan [here] singing the song, a rare performance, in a 1978 concert in Charlotte, N.C. The song is the first song on his 18th studio album Street Legal (1978)The song is full of biblical allusions and symbolism, particularly from the New Testament. Its social commentary, right on the mark, is spoken and understood by the common man, by the meek of the earth who carry some hope in their hearts. Desperate men, desperate women divided/Spreading their wings ’neath the falling leaves.

Changing of the Guards by Bob Dylan

Sixteen years
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ’neath the falling leaves

Fortune calls
I stepped forth from the shadows to the marketplace
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down
She's smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer's eve, near the tower

The cold-blooded moon
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid

They shaved her head
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale
I seen her on the stairs and I couldn't help but follow
Follow her down past the fountain where they lifted her veil

I stumbled to my feet
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending 'neath a heart-shaped tattoo
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I'd given to you

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road and the wailing of chimes
The empty rooms where her memory is protected
Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

She wakes him up
Forty-eight hours later, the sun is breaking
Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks
She’s begging to know what measures he now will be taking
He’s pulling her down and she’s clutching on to his long golden locks

Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either getting ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

Peace will come
With tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire
But will bring us no reward when her false idols fall

And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
Between the King and the Queen of Swords

Dylan is enigmatic, which is the way a poet ought to be, sayin’ what needs sayin’ in his collected writings. Take, for example, his 1984 interview in Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Finding Grace

Our Better Selves

Grace: (n; 12c) [ME, fr. OF, fr. L. grātia favor, charm, thanks, fr. grātus pleasing,
grateful; akin to OHG queran, to sigh, Skt grnäti he praises.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1987

“Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
C.S. Lewis [1898–1963], Book III; Chapter 8
(“The Great Sin”) in Mere Christianity (1952)

At one time the wealthy could at least be counted on for good manners; such does not appear to be the case today, especially among the cohort of multi-millionaires and billionaires who make money quickly and easily and as a result think themselves “better than others.” Their world is a competitive one, their ambition fueled by pride. In such a ruthless world, manners, gratefulness and kindness are not important, these being a sign of humility (or “weakness”).

More’s the pity, and society suffers as a result of its lack, even as many others are blithely unaware of its importance. A society in which everyone is competing is a horrible one in which to live. It becomes unbearable. When something is lacking or gone, its absence becomes more pronounced. Such is undoubtedly the case with grace. Where can she be found? Well, an old memory that recently returned to me, tells a story.

Almost 40 years ago, I met a few such old-school, old-money individuals when I was a student working part-time at McGill University; they came from noted English and French families and they were different in a good way, in a way that I found appealing. They were well-mannered and had all the social graces one would expect of such people. I, who came from a working-class background, took note and learned much from them.

I don’t want everything from the good ol’ days, but grace—both social and Christian—would be good in greater abundance. It would be a fine thing and good for society’s individuals to take in. If you accept the position that it is God who has bestowed on you certain gifts or benefits, including monetary, then you are more inclined to view others in a similar manner—with similar grace. In God’s economy no one has merited such gifts; everyone is equally undeserving.

Such a thought goes against the idea that we always must earn it, that it is a result of our own efforts, that only the best and brightest obtain it. Yet, grace contains none of these ideas, and because it is none of these things, we have difficulty accepting it. It is a heavenly gift of love (and acceptance) available to all who seek it. Truth be told, grace confounds the human mind, perhaps because it is a mystery which is wrapped in simplicity and humility.