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H. BRUCE RINKER: Words That I’ve Lived By

During one of my morning meditation practices this week, I reflected on some of the important sayings that have been guideposts in my life. I didn’t set out with this intention, but the thought congealed during the moments of the practice. I try to meditate each day. My preference is to begin my meditation after my morning ablutions, just before the sun rises. I sit on my east facing front-porch, sometimes listening to Gregorian or Tibetan chant, playing quietly in the background.

With our clear morning skies, we’ve recently been given a rare treat with five planets lined up nicely this month in the morning hours for the first time in 18 years: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; set to happen again in 2040.

With my mind and heart open to the Great Spirit, I sit there absorbing the cool morning freshness in my father’s cane rocking chair enthralled by the rarity of the scene and how lucky I am to witness this incredibly rare alignment. And in the humility of the moment, I quickly began my list:

* Baha’ullah: “Thy beauty, and its light will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.”

* Darwin: “There is grandeur in this view of life.” Even as a kid I viewed Charles Darwin as my hero.

* Pasteur: “In the field of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

* Maimonides: “Nobody is impoverished through the giving of charity.”

* Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” I have never understood the blindness and deliberate ignorance among so-called Christian fundamentalists about evolution. Not to believe the evidence for evolution, is not to believe the evidence for gravity.

* Buddha: “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.”

* The Virginia Tech Motto, adapted in 1896: “Ut Prosim,” “That I May Serve.” my undergraduate alma mater.

* Om mani Padme Om, the oldest chant in the world, it’s a Buddhist purification mantra that helps the practitioner to focus and calm the mind. Commonly translated, “Praise to the jewel in the Lotus.”

* ‘Sh’ma O Ysrael, Adonai Baruch Eleoheinu Adonai Echad, inscribed on the small Jewish scroll rolled inside the mezuzah posted on the doorposts of the faithful. The scroll contains the essence of monotheistic faith: “O Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone; and write these words on the doorposts of your house.”

I have posted this admonition on the entryway into my home; and another at the backdoor. I’ve posted a special Shema (“Hear Israel, rolled in a scroll at my front door for years;  that’s protected inside an old silver mezuzah that I purchased in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1996. The old rabbi from whom I bought it, he was straight off the pages of Biblical history, he made certain that I understood that the scroll with its tiny perfect script is kosher. How can I forget him, an old cheerful bearded man wearing this prayer shawl and kippah, and his side curls? The Shema is the Hebrew phrase that hearkens back into our remote past as our ancestors in faith became aware of an Overarching Power beyond ourselves.

* St. Francis: “Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.” Francis is widely acknowledged as the Patron Saint of Ecology.

* St. Jude: “There is no lost cause.” As a one time Franciscan friar, one of my Brothers, as a layman who turned from his being a very promiscuous gay man from Washington, DC, Jude acknowledged his calling to Forgiveness and Grace, by adopting the religious name, “Jude,” when he entered the Franciscan Religious Order, however, through prayer and inner discipline he began to accept his homosexuality, by realizing he had a greater calling. So far as I know, he’s remains faithful to his Religious Vows. I remember him for his easy laughter and his steady hugs. Yes, even monks and friars have pasts!

* “Never let the Truth stand in the Way of a Good Story.” A regularly cited a phrase by my late mentor, L. John Trott, who lived with his wife Lenore in McLean, Virginia for decades in an old log cabin just off Old Dominion Drive, eventually it was moved to the campus of The Madeira School, where John taught for years. The school campus overlooks a sweeping curve in the Potomac River.

Lee and John were extraordinary educators. His first initial, “L”, stood for “Little.” But John was anything but little. He had a strong baritone voice, and loved the out-of-doors, especially birds. John was from North Carolina and had an array of old sayings, some of which were quite vulgar. His aphorism about perceived truth was not so much a personal belief but a warning about our too-often slavish devotion to wrong beliefs mistaken for cosmic Truth.

For example, John was one of the first wide-minded Washingtonians to buck the downtown segregation rules about mixed-race couples dining in Capitol restaurants. One evening, he and his date were asked to leave the establishment where they were eating, because John was white, and his date a beautiful black woman.

These days it’s difficult to imagine the City as a segregated Capitol, but I remember DC as a kind of sleepy Southern town, through which I often wandered as an escorted kid during family visits to the City. John was a mentor for his stances against injustice, both social, and environmental.

My love for birds was inspired by John. And as Pilate asked Jesus, ”What is Truth?” John helped me to view birdsong as evolution’s love letter to the angels. John’s piquant storytelling came from his keen observations as a Southern man, and as a scientist who came of age in the Jim Crow South, and then he found Truth in the world of science, and as an erstwhile Episcopalian.

* “Do not fear”- the words of comfort to Juan Diego by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparition offered to the Aztec convert, Juan Diego in 1531 in a suburb of Mexico City. (Editor’s Note: Reminiscent of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous words, “Never Take Counsel of Your Fears . . .” 

* Aldo Leopold: “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things, natural, wild, and free.”

* Darwin: “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

These are a few of the words that I have tried to live by as a science educator, a forest ecologist, and as a man of an uncertain faith.

In the great sublimity of my front porch darkness, I can at times be overwhelmed with a kind of ecstasy in the dark of its great surrounding infinitude, sitting in the quiet with my heroes and ancestors. Could the light breeze around my rocking chair, actually be the touch of angels singing their praises back to the birds? As I face the east, watching the rising sun set afire the distant mountain ridge. Two marvelous thrilling things followed: there’s a fragrance in the air of damp earth, and a floral scent from the next-door garden, It’s like a Sacred Pneuma to remind me that I, too, am of the Earth.

Second a chorus of birds beginning slowly to call us to morning miracles like feathered muezzins, calling the world to prayer with the Earth itself as their mosque: first a Song Sparrow (chipper and happy), then a Mourning Dove (sad like ourselves sometimes, despite our countless blessings; then next an American Robin (feisty and explosive), then a Carolina Wren (with its intense curiosity, chattering to anyone who will listen; recently while I sat on the porch in my rocking chair, one flew from behind me as I sat on my father’s favorite rocker, it jumped on my right shoulder and looked at me, co close I could see my reflection in its eye, and THEN out of the blue, a raucous Pileated Woodpecker lit on an old decaying telephone pole directly in front of me, making a loud piping call like a giant pterosaur from a Reptilian World!

My front porch can be a place of Wonders!

Thanks be to the gods who created and sustain me. As the sun rises as I can make out the profile of a distant Blue Ridge Mountain, ancient and laden with caverns, sinkholes, fossils, weathering down from its one-time breathtakingly tall, snow covered heights, carrying the evidence of an ancient world. Denied by cantankerous fundamentalists of various shortsighted creeds.

Sometimes my morning meditation practice can become an awesome window into the Divine. Deo Gratias.

* “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle,” (Albert Einstein).

H. Bruce Rinker

Bruce Rinker, Ph.D. is the author of “A Pearl in the Brain” (Koëhler Books, 2019), a co-author of Forest Canopies, Elsevier Press,2004 and a co-author of Gaia in Turmoil (MIT Press, 2010), Bruce is forest ecologist, a science educator, and an explorer who lives in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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