Thursday, December 31, 2009

einstein's compass

einstein's compass

einstein's compass
experiencing a miracle
trembling with excitement
sparking genius
creating a world of thought
flying certainly away from the miraculous
a small book of Euclidian Geometry
seeking the miraculous in clarity and certainty
gravity

ρ(v, T) = 8πhv³/c³ 1/exp(hv/kT) – 1

E = hv – P

Cv = 3R ( hv ) ²/kT exp (hv/kT)/[exp (hv/kT) – 1]²

Rydberg's Constant = 2π²e⁴m/h³c

landing uncertainly in probability
wandering and wondering in the quantum universe
playing symphonies on strings

Galileo's Telescope

Galileo's Telescope

I hope to be Galileo's telescope - helping people see, discovering, bringing faraway near, confronting fear

2009 was the four hundredth anniversary of Galileo Galilei's telescope. Galileo (1564-1642) was a scientist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist. He was a "wonderer", and this "wondering" quality encouraged him to think differently from his fellow Pisans. When he was a child people said, "He has stars in his eyes."

Copernicus (1473-1543) was also a "wonderer". He looked up into the sky and wondered: "What if the world doesn't act the way people think it acts? Maybe the earth revolves around the sun." He wrote down his wonderings but didn't publish them because he couldn't prove them and because he was afraid, fearful of the power of the Church. Italy was like a quilt in those days, sewn out of patches of city states, each city state with its own laws and government. The only thing the city states had in common was a common religion, the Catholic faith, and the Church was a powerful influence.. The Church believed the Bible taught that the earth was the center of the universe. To go against this belief of the Church meant the possibility of suffering and punishment.

In 1609, Galileo heard about an instrument that could make small things big and bring faraway near. He wrote: "A report reached my ears that a certain Fleming had constructed a spyglass...Upon hearing the news, I set myself to thinking about the problem...Finally, sparing neither labor nor expense, I succeeded in constructing for myself so excellent an instrument that objects seen by means of it appeared nearly one thousand times larger and over thirty times closer than when regarded with our natural vision." (The word telescope was coined two years later, in 1611.). This instrument helped him use his senses, reason, and intellect to show people that Copernicus was correct - the earth and the other planets moved around the sun.

Each night, Galileo looked up and out into the night sky and wrote down everything he observed. He published his observations in a book that he called "The Starry Messenger". He sent telescopes and copies of his book to all the kings and princes of Europe. When he was a young man he had entertained and amused people with his brilliant observations. The people would say, "Galileo is our star!" Now his brilliance made him Chief Philosopher and Mathematician to the Medici court.

Galileo wrote: "I hold the sun to be situated motionless in the center of the revolution of the celestial orbs while the earth rotates on it axis and revolves around the sun.". His belief about the way the world worked differed from the Church's belief. He stated: "I do not feel obliged to believe the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use...He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations...If they (the ancient philosophers) had seen what we see, they would have judged as we judge". The Church disagreed with him and brought him before the Inquisition.

He was tried by the Inquisition and found guilty of heresy. "Namely for having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture; that the sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west, and the earth moves and is not the center of the world, and that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to the Holy Scripture" (June 1633 Rome). He was condemned to spend the rest of his life locked in his house under guard. The stars that had been in his eyes since his birth in Pisa went out. Later, he went blind.

Galileo's ideas lived on, as truthful ideas do. On October 31, 1992, three hundred fifty-nine years after he was sentenced by the Inquisition, he was pardoned by the Church. His blind eyes opened the eyes of others and helped them see. The wonder of his genius is a star that guides us still.

WPA

WPA

The Federal Writers Project was created in 1935 out of the dust of the Great Depression as a part of the Work Projects Administration in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. In my home state of South Carolina, the writers in the writers' program journeyed through the Palmetto counties, from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Upstate to the Midlands, to the Low Country, and wrote down the sights they saw and the stories they heard, writings that were collected and binded into a book titled, "The WPA Guide to the Palmetto State."

I am writing a story about two brothers growing up in Clarendon County, SC during desegregation and the early Civil Rights Movement so I am using the Guide to help me journey back to that time and place and listen to the stories of the people and see the sights on the land as they were in the 1930's and 1940's. On one of those journeys I discovered a story from a trail to Scott Lake in Clarendon County, a place near the Liberty Hill African Methodist Episcopal Church where meetings were held in the 1940's and 1950's that led to local court cases which helped bring about the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools. Here is the story as it was written by the FWP writer.

"The trail leads around the lake through virgin timber and dense undergrowth. Here rises the vast bulk of an INDIAN MOUND (R), 1 m., 50 feet high and 800 feet in circumference. Legend recounts that it is under the curse of an Indian girl deserted by her lover. Atop the mound is the SITE OF FORT WATSON, a British Revolutionary post. In 1780 General Francis Marion decided to capture the fort. Bombardment was out of the question, for the Americans were out of artillery, but Colonel Maham, one of Marion's officers, proposed building a log tower higher than Fort Watson. Hidden by the trees, men hewed logs and the tower was erected in a single night. At dawn a shower of lead poured down into the enemy enclosure, effecting a quick victory. The scheme was used several times in later Revolutionary encounters."

So this place was under a curse, not only the legendary curse of the indian girl deserted by her lover but also the curse of a people deserted by neighbors, the curse Jim Crow. And so this place was the site where other kinds of fighters in another kind of revolutionary war, fighters who were ministers and farmers and people of the land named JA and Mattie DeLaine, Levi Pearson and Harry and Liza Briggs, fighters who gave their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies to build a movement that was hidden in the South Carolina soil but that poured down on Jim Crow like a shower of lead from the sky, a Civil Rights Movement that would lead to victory over segregation in the South, though not as quickly as the victory of the old swamp fox Francis Marion and his compatriots.

As a writer, I am wandering the paths of the FWP writers, learning the stories, the people, and the land of my state in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's, trying to see and feel through the eyes and hearts of two boys growing up on a farm during those times of great hope and great fear, wondering.


An African Path to Civility and Peace

An African Path to Civility and Peace

This morning, Madu walked the one kilometer path from his village to my house at the mission station. He is married to Sirima and they have two children – four-year-old Sira, who they call Bonnie, and two-year-old Musa, who they call Papa. He told me that Papa had burned his hand and wrist in the morning cooking fire.

“Do you have any medicine for a burn?” he asked.

There is a hospital in our small town on the southwestern edge of Mali, but it’s small staff of doctors serve a large population of people without the use of technology, electricity, or even running water. Many times people come to me for help and healing before they go to the hospital because I have free first aid supplies, a generator, and a deep water well. I consulted my ragged copy of Where There Is No Doctor and turned to the section on the treatment of burns.

- “Did the burns cause blisters?” I asked.

- “Yes. It’s a bad burn.”

- “We can take some supplies and this book and go together to see if we can help Papa.”

- “That’s good. Thank you.”

He said “thank you” in his humble, broken English and I answered “you’re welcome” in my humble, broken Malinke and we started off back down the path to his village.

As we stepped into Madu’s courtyard, a large group of people greeted us.

- “Are there any problems here today?” I asked.

- “No, there aren’t any problems today.”

This was a part of the customary greeting that is shared by everyone on every day in rural Mali. On this morning, however, there was a problem and though I couldn’t hear it in the pleasant tones of their voices I could see it in the concerned looks on their faces.
Sirima was working. Malinke women always seem to be at work. She was preparing the food for the afternoon meal and was carrying Papa on her back in the way of African women with their babies. With large, sad eyes he pressed his cheek against her shoulder and hung his injured hand loosely at his side. I patted Sirima’s arm and looked at Papa’s hand. Most of the skin had been burned off of his wrist and lower arm. Some skin was hanging from the wound.
Madu and I prepared soap, cotton, scissors, and sterile gauze pads. Sirima held Papa while we cleaned the wound. I washed the hand and wrist with soap and water. Madu cut away the dangling skin with scissors. I coated the gauze with antibiotic ointment and gently placed it over the burn. Madu wrapped an ace bandage around the gauze. By helping each other, we helped Papa through his pain and tears and we helped each other through our own doubts and fears.
Five days later, two beautifully dressed elderly women came to my door at the mission. Madu’s mother, Sira, and his “Na n’ding,” his father’s second wife and “little mother,” Fenda, were standing before me. Sira is an old woman now. She is the matriarch of the family but still plants, works, and harvests a field of groundnuts every year. She is experiencing the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease so her work is hard. Fenda is old now, too. One time I passed by her field while she was working. I looked at the sweat glistening on the muscles of her arms and her back and saw the kindness and age in her eyes and smile.

- “Good morning, Bakary. We brought a gift to you to thank you for helping Papa.”

- “Wow! Thank you so much. How is Papa today? Is he better?”

- “Yes, he’s much better. No infection came. He’s going to be okay!”

Their gift was a meaningful gift to me, a large bowl of groundnuts, groundnuts that Sira had grown in her field. Sira and Fenda had harvested them, baked them in an iron pot over an open cooking fire, peeled them from their shells, and prepared them for me to eat.
Those groundnuts are a symbol of my Malinke friends and our relationship with each other. When you plant a groundnut in the rocky soil, it grows out of the ground as a deep green plant with bright yellow flowers on top to tell the farmer that the fruit is in the earth and ready to be harvested. And there stood Sira and Fenda, two deep, bright African women who nurture their family and their friends with love and endurance in the depths of the two-thirds world. As I shared my groundnuts with everyone around me, I realized that I was offering myself to help and to heal my Malinke friends and my Malinke friends were offering themselves to help and to heal me. Maybe the path to civility and peace can be found somewhere along the path from my house to Madu’s village.

asteres planetai

asteres planetai

I learned from Marcus Boon in his article "Spring Comes To New Jersey" in The Sun magazine that the word eccentric comes from a Greek word that described objects in space that didn't revolve around the Earth. The Greeks in ancient times saw Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and observed that they wandered through the sky moving in seemingly aimless ways. They called these planets asteres planetai (wandering stars). The planets were not, however, wandering. They were revolving around the sun. It was the finite view of human beings that made them seem like wanderers.

Human eccentrics move in seemingly aimless ways, too. Their movements make them seem like wanderers to other human beings with finite views. They don't wander aimlessly, though. They revolve around a different center.

One such wanderer is liberation theologian and Dominican Priest Gustavo Gutierrez. He is often asked how it feels to have started a new theological movement, how it feels to be the creator of liberation theology. He answers, "Some of you have learned about theology of liberation through my writings but I did not start this theology. I only express what I learn from others, especially the poor." It is this answer that moves him in a seemingly aimless way, a movement that makes him seem like a wanderer. I am part of a culture that aims to "start something new," to "create." There is something inherently good about starting something new and creating if these things are used to make the world a more human place to live, especially more human for the smallest and most forgotten of our world. There is something inherently bad, however, about starting something new and creating when the aim of these things is the pursuit of power - social power, economic power, and political power - a power that dominates and controls. I am a part of a culture that revolves around this sort of power.

Gutierrez is a part of a people who revolve around a different center. He is a part of poor people who aim to organize themselves in the defense of their right to life, in the struggle for dignity and social justice, and in a commitment to their own liberation. He is in solidarity with poor people embracing every effort to bring about authentic fellowship and authentic justice. He is "being with" those who struggle against racism, machismo, the marginalization of the elderly, children, LGBT persons, and other "unimportant" persons in society. This "being with" leads to liberation - social liberation, economic liberation, and political liberation. He is a part of a people who revolve around liberation.

Gustavo Gutierrez is one of the asteres planetai who demand life and dignity in the midst of death and humiliation of the "unimportant" persons, of the poor. He is a part of their lives, sharing their sufferings and joys, their concerns and their struggles, as well as the faith and hope that they live out. Gutierrez's greatest joy is not in being the "father" of liberation theology. His greatest joy is feeding breakfast to the children in Rimac, a desperately poor area on the outskirts of Lima, Peru where he serves as priest and friend.

I choose to wander with him, to revolve around his center, and to be eccentric with him. I hope you'll wander with us. Be eccentric! Be an asteres planetai!




interiorism

interiorism

A Public Space, in its own words, is "an independent magazine of literature and culture. Founded in 2005, the magazine is a forum for new ideas and new conversations, and each issue brings together a wide range of global voices to tell the stories of the twenty-first century." I found one of those new ideas in an essay titled, "Sail On, My Little Honey Bee," by Amy Leach, an idea that is helping me as a writer see the world in a clearer way and touch it with more sympathetic hands. Ms. Leach received a Rona Jaffe Award, an award given to writers of exceptional talent, and has written a collection of essays, "Things That Are."

The new idea that I discovered is a philosophy, the philosophy of Interiorism, a way of thinking, being, and doing in the world that teaches that "truth is to be known by introspection." I understand it as a way of looking inside of things to find their essence.

Oliver Sacks, the wonderful neurologist and writer, helps me further understand Interiorism in the preface of his great book, "Awakenings," a story of the patients at Mount Carmel Hospital in New York who were afflicted with encephalitis lethargica just after World War I and had been "asleep" until the spring of 1969 when Dr. Sacks helped them "awaken" with a remarkable drug called L-DOPA. In that preface, Sacks refers to his patients as "worlds" that require "not a static and systematic formulation, but an active exploration of images and views, a continual jumping-about and imaginative movement". A philosophy of Exteriorism is interested in those static and systematic formulations, in those things that can be observed on the outside. Interiorism, however, is interested in seeing people as worlds and in exploring the inside of these worlds with imagination.

It is a serendipity to find out about Interiorism in Ms. Leach's essay. To find a name and a meaning for thoughts and feelings that I have had for as long as I can remember is a wonderful thing. My culture has attempted to teach me that "Vederi Quam Esse," that to seem to be is more important than to be. But something inside of me rebels against this teaching and turns it upside down. Interiorism helps me raise my fist into the air and shout out, "Esse Quam Videri," to be is more important than to seem to be, and look for the essence of people, places, and things.



seeds

seeds

It is seven o'clock in the morning. The sun is rising over our mountain. It is already hot. Drops of sweat roll off the end of my nose and fall to a thirsty ground. Rain has not been on this part of the earth for seven months. These drops are a sign to the ground that the first rains are only a few weeks away. That makes the ground happy.

I am working with Bala. He is eleven years old. As I look into his eyes I can see intelligence and empathy, a good combination of traits in anyone at any age but especially in someone so young. His big smile warms me as much as the sun does. When he smiles, it is as if my heart is basking in sunshine, as if my soul is standing in the sunrise. All during the day we play a game called "Foda". He calls out my name and if I say "foda!" then I am safe. If I forget to say "foda," however, and answer, "Huh?" instead then he gets to thump me three times on my forehead. Each time he gets me, he giggles as he thumps me. His giggles make me laugh. The Koran teaches that those who make their friends laugh are worthy of paradise. If this is true then he will have a prominent place there. In stature he is small and thin but in heart he is as big and broad as this field in which we are standing.

In one hand we are holding small gourds that have been cut in half and filled with millet seeds. In the other we are holding small hoes that the Malinke people call "dabos." We are walking side by side, digging holes in the ground, dropping three tiny black seeds into the earth and covering the seeds with a fine layer of rocks and dirt. The ground on our mountain is rocky ground and the land seems to have more stones on it than soil. It is a miracle that things grow here, that things grow so well here. But they do. We are planting with hope that good rains will come and help the seeds grow into whole, full stalks of millet. I am enjoying learning the life of a Malinke farmer. Bala is my teacher. This is his field.

There is a commotion below us at the bottom of the field, the shouting of children and the barking of a dog. We look up from our work, lifting our hands to our faces to shield our eyes from the glare of the sun.

"What's happening?" I ask.

"A squirrel," he answers.

"A squirrel is in the ground."

"What are the children doing?" I ask again.

"We're going to trap it. Let's go!"

We run to the children. I watch in wonder as they go about trapping the squirrel. They are standing around a mound of dirt, a mound that is taller than they are, a mound that is covered with squirrel-sized holes. The dog is barking and digging in one of the holes. In ways that seem as familiar to them as brushing their teeth, the children begin to use rocks to block the holes around the barking dog and chop the ground around him with their dabos.

"There it is!" yells Bala.

With one swift motion he reaches into the whole, grabs the squirrel, and pulls it out of its hiding place.

"Wow", I say, astonished that my little friends are so adept at finding meat for their evening meal.

"Bubakari, we want to give this to you so Fenda can cook it for your supper."

"No, no. I don't think Fenda knows how to cook a squirrel. I don't think she would like to cook it, anyway. You take it and eat it. You worked hard for it. You give it to your Mother so she can cook it for you, okay?"

After a while, the sun reaches its peak in the sky, its crecendo within the symphony of the day, and we are hot and tired. We are standing under the shade of an ancient baobab tree, taking big gulps of water from our canteens, letting the cool water run off of our faces and onto our shirts to cool us and clean us. It is time to walk back to the village because the sun is stronger than we are. We walk. Bala leads and I follow. I ask questions along our way.

"What kind of tree is that?"

"Can you eat its fruit?"

"Is there a village over that hill?"

"What is the name of that bird?"

Bala answers patiently as we slowly make our way home. We are talking but mostly we are overcome by silence, the quiet that falls comfortably after a long stretch of hard work. We are walking. As always, I am thinking and wondering.

We walk up the steep hill into our village. We see other men with dabos hanging over their shoulders. Mud made from dust and sweat is clinging from their tattered farming clothes. We hear the beat of women punding pestles on mortars, living metronomes that set the rhythm and rhyme of the village day. Afternoon meals are being prepared for hungry families. I feel a child wrap her arms around my knee and I lift her up off the ground with each step I take, both of us enjoying her way of saying hello. I observe the children in our village as they chase each other around trees and play in the public meeting place, remembering that over half of the population of our African continent is under eighteen years of age. We go our seperate ways, I into my courtyard and Bala into his. It feels good to be home.

"Hello tired one. You worked hard today!" say friends who are visiting us.

"Hello my friends." Are you passing the afternoon in peace?" I ask of them.

My wife brings a cup of water to me and kneels as she places it in my hand, following a Malinke custom that all married women must practice. I grin.

"Please don't kneel," I say to her.

She kneels anyway, partly to save herself from the scandal of not kneeling and partly to say that she loves me.

I sit down in the shade of our thatched roof shelter that our friends built for us. I bury my face into the folds of my shirt to wipe away the sweat from my salt worn eyes. I look up again and see the extended hands of my friend Baiisa. She is Bala's Mother. The Malinke custom is to bring some food to the person who helps in your field and she is honoring that custom now. She is holding a bowl of food in her hands, pounded corn the color of soft sunlight with peanut sauce poured over the top of it. It is a practical way of saying thanks for working in her son's field. As the warm food fills my belly, she gives me a blessing.

"May God return the kindness to you that you have shown to me."

I reach into the bowl for another handful of the delicious food and I know that she is the answer to her own prayer for me.

Now I am sitting on a mammoth rock up on a hill just behind our courtyard, in the shade of a mango tree. I am enjoying the respite from the midday heat. I can see my village before me. It is as if the whole village is taking a collective breath, waiting for the sun to move down on the horizon so people can go back to their fields again. I close my eyes and on the canvas of my heart my thoughts paint a picture of my Malinke friends. I see small clouds of dust rise from the dry, hard ground with each determined stroke of the dabo. I see the three tiny millet seeds fall deftly from the planting gourd into the small, hollowed holes in the ground. I see bare feet stepping over the stony field, calloused and broken from a lifetime of playing, working, and living without shoes. The dabo becomes an extension of the hand and the people themselves seem to be growing out of the ground, those same calloused and broken feet being deeply rooted in the soil. "The Lord God formed people from the dust of the ground," says Scripture. I understand this now. I see a person stooped and working, planting the field that will help his family live. He rises slowly and looks at me. I see Bala.

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african child

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

african child

Holding you in my hands,

I see your tiny feet and hope you'll live and walk these stony paths to the pump to get water.

Blessing me with your meekness and gentleness,

you are Jesus to me today.


Asking for holes in the palms of my hands and receiving you instead.

Seeking holes in my feet and finding this road winding to mud bricks and thatched roofs under baobab trees.

The stigmata,

in the holy poverty of an unknown African village where suffering and love are found in their wholeness.

Knocking on the door for the hole in my side, I am opening it into the life of a broken child.


Listening to you,

I understand that you are an end in yourself and not a means to an end.

Looking at you,

I see that you are a beginning in yourself and a new way for me to see.

Loving you,

I feel you living in my heart. Suffering love.

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Muddy Shoes

Washing dishes. This is how I remember Momadu. Washing dishes is a chore, you know. In the pre-dishwasher days in America, my Mom put 'wash the dishes' on her childrens list of things to do every day and we washed them, obediently though begrudgingly. Here in the pre-dishwasher days in Mali, though, we ask Momadu to wash the dishes and he washes them with joy.

How can he do something as mundane as washing dishes and do it with joy? Perhaps it's because joy is a fruit, a fruit that grows on the Jesus tree, the tree that takes root in the heart when someone believes, when someone who has ears that hear, eyes that see, and a heart that understands follows Jesus. Perhaps it's because Momadu understands.

I remember him wearing a tattered, blue t-shirt with an imprint from some Baptist church somewhere in Kentucky that some missionary gave him a long time ago. It was stretched at the neck and dotted with holes and made him look poor. Indeed, he is a peasant farmer trying to eek out an existence for his family and for himself on a harsh and broken land. He is a peasant parson trying to love the Lord his God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, and trying to love his neighbor as himself. He is a peasant cook.

I remember his worn, dirty flip-flops on the ground in front of the door of our community house at the mission station. How much is his body like his flip-flops? It is worn from much serving, worn from trying to live out the second part of the great commandment. In Mali, flip-flops cost less than one U.S. dollar. That doesn't seem like much money to me. If my flip-flops were like his flip-flops then I would throw them away and buy a new pair. One dollar, however, can buy three days of vegetables to put into a family's sauce, so when Momadu's flip-flop strap breaks he repairs them and keeps on wearing them until they are worn out. In the same way, Momadu will keep on loving until his body is completely worn out. That will be his mark of Christ one day as he limps toward God, and God will hold him until he is healed and whole again.

I often wonder, "Who is a saint in my world today"? One time, my flip-flops were filthy dirty, caked in mud and tainted with cow manure. I took them off at the back door of our house and went inside to take a shower. After I dressed, I walked over to the window to watch the dusking of afternoon into evening when the sun hangs on the edge of the African sky like a giant, red-ripe tomato. As I looked at the sky, I lowered my eyes and saw Momadu washing my shoes. He was kneeling down beside our water spigot and washing my shoes with the simplest of elements, with water and his hands. I know for sure that Momadu is not perfect, but I know equally for sure that he is a saint. Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God". That kingdom is in a good heart in Momadu's heart. That kingdom is in good hands in Momadu's hands. That kingdom is on good feet on Momadu's feet.

 

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Romero's Glasses

Romero,

living love, peace and hope,

protecting ordinary people from extraordinary hatred and violence,

peaceful hero,

dying for the cause but not killing for it,

denying guns and bombs their power,

risking the violence of love.

Conserving tradition at first for the greatest,

seeing through your glasses at last for the least,

feeling the hunger of underpaid workers,

knowing the poverty of farmers,

seeing the warning, "Here's what happens to priests who get involved in politics",

holding tears of the disappeared.

Challenging,

calling all to view the liberating body of a slain priest,

serving the poor,

using words to build up humanity and tear down injustice,

"In the name of God, stop killing..."

offering crucifixion,

discovering resurrection.








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Snowflake Bentley

Snowflake Bentley

Wilson Bentley was born February 9, 1865 on a farm in Jericho, Vermont. Jericho is in the heart of the "snowbelt" and has an annual snowfall total of around 120 inches. What a wonderful place to grow up if you love snow!

Willie Bentley liked to net the butterflies that flittered and fluttered around his farm and show them to his older brother, Charlie. He liked to pick the apple blossoms that dotted the apple trees in the pastures and give them to his Mother. But he loved snow more than anything else in the whole world. He loved to see snowflakes on his mittens and on the barn doors but he couldn't share them with anyone. He couldn't save them before they melted.

Willie's Mother was his teacher until he was fourteen years old. She had a set of encyclopedias in their house and he read all of them! She gave him an old microscope and he used it to look closely and carefully at all of the amazing things you can find on a farm - like flowers, raindrops, and blades of grass. Of course, the things he loved to look at most of all were snowflakes. Other children used snow to make snowballs and build snowforts, but Willie caught single snowflakes and studied them.

Willie found that snowflakes were beautiful icy crystals and that no two snowflakes that he studied were ever alike. He decided to try and draw pictures of snowflakes so he could share their beauty with his community. Starting at age fifteen, he tried to draw one hundred snowflakes each winter for three winters. They always melted before he could finish drawing them.

One day, Willie read an article in a magazine about a camera with its own microscope inside of it. He shared the news with his Mother and Father and told them that he could photograph snowflakes he he had that camera. When he was seventeen years old, his parents spent their savings on the camera and gave it to Willie. They knew he wanted with all of his heart to share what he had seen of snowflakes.

The camera cost as much as his Father's herd of ten cows, but it could magnify a smowflake to 3,600 times its actual size. During the first winter with his camera, all of his attempts to photograph snowflakes were failures. He worked through each and every snowfall but his pictures were only shadows. As winter melted into spring he had no good picture of a snowflake. He waited patiently for the next winter to bring new snow and new possibilities to photograph snowflakes and, when the snowfall began, he tried a new experiment. He used a very small lens opening, which let only a little light reach the negative, but he kept the lens open for up to a minute and a half. It worked! Willie had discovered how to photograph snowflakes! Now he could share their beauty with everyone.

- "My photographs of snowflakes will be my gift to the world," said Willie.

- "Snow in Vermont is as common as dirt," laughed his neighbors. "We don't need pictures."

While other farmers with horse and sleigh passed him by, Willie stood by the barn and caught snowflakes on an old black tray. He learned that each snowflake begins as a speck, much too tiny to be seen. Little bits - molecules - of water attach to the speck to form its branches. As the crystal grows, the branches come together and trap small quantities of air. Many things affect the way these crystal branches grow. A little more cold, a bit less wind, or a bit more moisture will mean different shaped branches. Willie realized that was why, in all his pictures, he never found two snowflakes alike.

The conditions around Willie had to be just right for him to get a good picture of a snowflake. He stood for hours on end in his freezing barn for just the right snowflake. If he looked on his tray and found broken snowflakes, he brushed them gently with a turkey feather and sent them down to the waiting ground. Some winters he was only able to make a few dozen good pictures. The best snowstorm of his life occurred on Valentine's Day in 1928. He made over one hundred photographs during the two day storm.

He came up with creative ways to share his snowflake pictures. He gave them away as gifts for birthdays. He held evening slideshows by using a projector and a sheet hung over a clothesline on the lawns of neighboring farms. He sold them to colleges and universities. He gave them to artists to help inspire their own work. He gave speeches about snow. Magazines published his articles and his photographs. Willie the little farmer came to be known as the world's expert on snow. People called him, "the Snowflake Man."

Willie never grew rich. By 1926 he had spent $15,000 on his work and received $4,000 from the sale of photographs and slides. Other scientists raised enough money to allow him to gather up his best photographs and make them into a book. When he was sixty-six years old his book - his gift to the world - was published. Less than a month after the publication, Willie walked six miles in a blizzard to his farm to take more pictues of snowflakes. He became ill with pneumonia and died.

Jericho, Vermont built a monument for Willie in the. Center of town. The plaque on the monument says - "SNOWFLAKE" BENTLEY: Jericho's world famous snowflake authority.

Snowflake Bentley was a simple farmer and a genius. His words to us are likewise simple yet profound - "I found that snowflakes were masterpieces of design. No design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted...just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.". His life and work reminds up to put our hearts into who we are and what we do, to give ourselves and our work as a gift to the world, to leave a record of beauty that will make the world a more human place for all of us.



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Friday, December 25, 2009

San Lazaro Revolution

San Lazaro Revolution



As I reflect on my visit to Cuba I am thinking about the Cuban Revolution and what I will call the San Lazaro Revolution.

Lazaro is one of our brothers in La Iglesia Bautista del Camino. He speaks little English but communicates "grande" in the language of humanity. He talks with his hands, feet, and heart. He has an amazing knowledge of American baseball, movies, and history - truly amazing considering the peoples of our countries have been cut of from each other by political ideology for over 50 years. He has an ingenious way of using his hands to communicate. To help me know how much he liked something or someone, he would put his fingers to his lips, extend his hand outward, and then place his hand over his heart. A meaningful moment for me with him came during our New Years Eve meal with his church family. We were talking about baseball and he was sharing about his love of the game. I took off my old Brooklyn Dodgers cap and gave it to him. He cried, and his tears of joy brought joy to my heart.
San Lazaro is the patron saint of the poor in Cuba. His icon is of a withered man in ragged clothes hobbling along on a pair of crutches with sores on his legs. There are two dogs at his feet licking his wounds. He is not the Lazarus who is a brother to Mary and Martha and a friend of Jesus who is raised from the dead in the New Testament story but is the Lazarus who is a beggar who is ignored by a rich man and ends up in the arms of Father Abraham when he dies. Two Cuban friends told me that for the poor he is a sign both of hope and of resistance. He is a sign of hope because his story offers the possibility that there is liberation from poverty - food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, home for the stranger, clothes for the naked, care for the sick, and visits for the prisoner. This sign of hope leads the poor to go on long pilgrimages during the feast of St. Lazaro to seek consolation and help from him. He is also a sign of resistance because his story offers the possibility that there is liberation from oppression - good news to the poor, healing for the broken-hearted, release to captives, and freedom to prisoners. This sign of resistance came from the indigenous people who were overwhelmed by the power of the Spanish state and Catholic Church but who made a saint of the Church their own saint and who came to realize that Jesus was one of them.
The Cuban Revolution came down from the mountains to the people. The San Lazaro Revolution is rising up from the people to the mountains. The Cuban Revolution taught people how to read and write. The San Lazaro Revolution is teaching people how to read the Cuban Revolution.
The San Lazaro Revolution is found growing in what is called "patio projects" but what could also be called "human development projects." It is growing in small gardens in the homes of the poor. It is small and it is growing in the hearts of human beings, making a difference in the world.