Monday, July 26, 2010


I’ve been on many plant-collecting field trips with my friend, Victoria, who is a botanist, and most of them took place during the hottest part of summer. My grandson, Martin, also accompanied us on all of the trips and was delighted to have his own small spade to dig in the hard-baked soil and unearth weed specimens during July and August. Most of the time, Vickie was in pursuit of Eupatorium, a dirty white flowered weed (my description) that is her field of expertise in the world of botany. On one trip I was delighted to discover a member of the Asteraceae family of the genus Eupatoriadelphus commonly called Joe Pye weed, which has beautiful lavender florescence and can be used as an ornamental. The weed also has healing properties. It used to be in genus Eupatorium, Victoria says.

Yesterday, as we rounded a curve just off Highway 41, I spied this amazing Joe Pye weed, blooming at the edge of a wood near our cottage. “Hay la ba,” I cried in Cajun dialect, “it’s dat purple flower I like so much.” The sight was quickly photographed with the cell phone, and I hope it loses none of the beauty we attempted to capture through an iPhone!

Joe Pye was a Mohican Indian healer who practiced alternative healing during colonial times, using a concoction derived from the plant to cure typhus fever. The weed is often called gravel weed or kidney root, and Indian tribes, who are known for using many grasses and plants to heal illnesses, used it to wash wounds and to prevent infection. Joe Pye weed is still used by those who believe in the efficacy of herbals in healing infections. Joe Pye weed teas are often brewed to use as a diuretic to treat kidney stones and to treat rheumatism and gout.

I’d venture a guess that the weed was used by traiteurs in performing miraculous healings during the 18th century in Louisiana. I included some of the healings that traiteurs accomplish with weeds and grasses in my book, MARTIN’S QUEST, a young adult book about a grandmother traiteur and her grandson, who also practices alternative healing. In the book, the traiteurs practice alternative medicine in a contemporary setting.

The Joe Pye weed that we photographed was covered with small, silver spotted skippers, probably male, who were perched on the purple flowers, one of their favorite-colored flowers. Their wings are brown/black, and the forewing has transparent gold spots; the underside of the wing has a metallic silver band. The sight of both flower and skippers lent beauty to a hot summer day on the Cumberland Plateau. I’m told that Joe Pye weed is a plant that will last until the first frost, so we have time to photograph it with a real camera. Apologies to Steve Jobs. But the iPhone was only a 3G.

Friday, July 23, 2010


For the past week, we’ve enjoyed a flurry of social activities honoring friends from Washington, D.C. – my good friend, Jane Bonin, and her beau Freddie Begun. Jane is a retired Peace Corps director who worked in Malawi and other parts of Africa, and Freddie is a retired tympani performer with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. for 48 years. Jane now refers to their visit on The Mountain as her visit “to the country” where she stayed in the home of her daughter, Knowles, and son-in-law Bill. The Writers Conference and Music Festival were in session, so Jane and Freddie enjoyed a “gracious plenty” of culture in our village here on The Mountain before winging back to Washington. The Mountain has been very quiet, too quiet, since Jane and Freddie departed, and we miss their witty repartee and lively interest in all things “Sewaneean,” as well as the food sampling we enjoyed during their visit.

Today, I returned to our more habitual daily pattern of meditation, chapel attendance, reading, and writing. One of the books that almost leaped out of the bookcase this morning was REFLECTIONS ON THE ART OF LIVING by Joseph Campbell, published in 1991 and written during Campbell’s month-long stay at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur, California. The reflections were selected and edited by Diane Osbon, and the quotation preceding the first chapter sorta’ spoke to my time with an old friend this past week. It reads: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are,” and I might add, “and being with someone who is being who she is.” Good friends are like that – comfortable to be with because they’re truly being who they are, and they invite you to be the same.

In antithesis to this idea of good friends being who they really are is the person who seems to make social exchange very difficult. Campbell advises that when we’re with those people, we should listen when they speak, not to the words, but to WHAT is talking. He adds that “it is usually pride, malice, or ignorance.” For instance, “when someone tells us that we’re selfish, it’s often because we aren’t doing what they want us to do.”

One year during the 90’s, we visited Big Sur for the umpteenth time, and while there, we decided to board a van and drive into the entrance to Esalen Institute. Our intent was to tour the facilities, but once we entered the parking lot, a man rushed out, waving his arms and directing us to turn around as we were on private property. For all we knew, Campbell may have been there, working on the dialogues for this book I’m now reading. He was possibly sitting among those who were meditating on one of his aphorisms: “The first half of life we serve society – engagement. The second half of life we turn inward – disengagement.”

An interesting story derived from Campbell’s work is the one about his life during the Great Depression when he wrote that no one wants a person to do what he wants to do; they want him to go on THEIR trip. However, he can do what he wants to do anyway. Indeed, Campbell did. He went into the woods and read for five years, holed up in a shack in Woodstock, New York. He survived without a job the entire five years. His premise was that if you’re on your own path, things will come to you, and, then, everything that happens to you is a surprise and is timely.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The other day when I found time to read the newspaper, I came across the information that wife abuse in the U.S. is on the increase. A few days later, I tuned in to a noon-day show on television that featured a special on the subject of wife abuse. The commentator of the program pointed out that millions of women in the U.S. suffer abuse from their husbands. The abuse, in some cases, can be attributed to psychosis and anger problems, but the greatest single cause is that of the spouse’s addiction to alcohol or drugs. Women, as in cases of rape, feel reluctant to tell about the beating incidents due to fear, pride, and the vain hope that their male partner will get better. Another more common cause is that those women fear that they won’t be able to take care of themselves if they desert the offending mate.

There’s nothing amusing about wife abuse, but I’ve heard several funny stories about how some women have figured out how to arrest a man’s tendencies toward wife beating. A friend in Labadieville, a small community near Thibodeaux, Louisiana, once told me the story about a man in Labadieville who hadn’t quite adjusted to married life and decided to have a night out on the town with the boys. When he came home, his furious wife began to berate him for being a rounder because he had been hanging out in a local bar. The husband retaliated by hitting her. Instead of cowering, his spunky wife stood up to him, saying, “You’re taller than I am and you’re much stronger than I am, but you had just better not go to sleep.” ‘Turns out that the man sat up all night, and the barflies lost a buddy.

A story in the same vein is my favorite one about a wife beater featured in a small book of short stories entitled Pericles on 31st Street, written by Harry Petrakis. Petrakis, a Greek, wrote about many experiences that occurred in the Old Country, and he related this tale, “Journal of a Wife Beater,” to a gathering of Louisiana librarians:

A burly Greek married late in life and lived in wedded bliss for several months. However, the Greek had heard that to keep his marriage blissful, he must beat his wife to assert his authority and to keep her from becoming less than a good wife. So he went home one night and gave her a horrific beating for no reason. The wife bore the beating with humility, but revenge lodged in her heart.

One night while the husband was sleeping, the little woman pulled out her frying pan and beat him while he slept. When the husband woke up, he complained of feeling bruised. The wife didn’t alter her humble manner, nor did she volunteer any reasons for her husband to feel so bruised. However, she took up her frying pan again, night after night. One night, in the middle of a beating, her husband suddenly woke up and caught her with frying pan in hand, poised over his burly body. The sight terrified him, and, the story goes, he gave up wife beating forever.

In both cases of wife beating, the tag line was that if a man takes a hand to his wife, he should remember that he has to sleep sometime. And if he should abuse her and awaken feeling bruised, he may not have had a bad dream.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


For several years after my godfather, Markham Peacock, died, I made annual trips to the Delta country of Mississippi. These trips were nostalgic pilgrimages to Shaw, Mississippi, which is a rather depressing part of the Delta. The landscape in winter is particularly desolate, with miles and miles of flatland that look totally unlike the prosperous farmland when “cotton was king.” As we rode through Shaw, I saw that buildings in the downtown section of Shaw, including the old hardware store which belonged to Markham’s father, had been boarded up, and many downtown areas of surrounding small towns were also filled with abandoned buildings that had been nailed shut. Two years ago, when I asked a friend to accompany me one more time on this Delta country pilgrimage to Markham’s birthplace, she refused, saying that the desolation was too much for her.

Recently, I received the AARP Bulletin and turned to a page that bore the title “Iranian Cure for the Delta’s Blues.” It piqued my interest for two reasons: 1) for two years, I lived in southern Iran and have written extensively about this country; and 2) I have seen the desolation in Delta country, mostly fueled by the introduction of mechanization of farming. It’s a place where health and health care declined during the last century, and it’s difficult for us to accept that Iran could send help for the Delta’s health woes, but it has. According to an article by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. in the AARP Bulletin, Mohammad Shahbazi, M.D., chair of the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health at Jackson State University, in Mississippi, who was born in southern Iran, is pioneering a new public health care program in the Delta. Southern Iran was my home abroad for two years, and I know that the infant mortality rate in that area was astronomical. The landscape and woes of the peasants in Iran during the 70’s parallel the landscape and woes of Delta country today.

However, the National Institute of Health and Iran’s ministry of health recently organized a tour to Iran for Dr. Aaron Shirley, a 77-year old pediatrician, and James Miller, a health care consultant from Oxford Mississippi. The tour included visits with doctors and public health officials and to “health houses.” In rural Iran, “behvarzes,“ or villagers, receive training to provide health services in villages of up to 1500 people and oversee sanitation, water testing, and environmental programs. Women behvarzes provide child and maternal health, family planning, vaccinations, and compile medical histories. According to Bourne, Iran now has more than 17,000 health houses and 30,000 behvarzes. Between health houses and regional centers, approximately 90 percent of Iran’s rural people receive health care.

A physician from Shiraz, Iran has visited a clinic set up in Belzoni, Mississippi that is patterned after one of Iran’s health care facilities, and Dr. Shirley hopes to set up a primary care clinic in Baptist Town, Mississippi in a renovated shack. Miller, Shahbazi, and Shirley have begun to recruit volunteers, along with donated buildings and medical supplies. The idea of behvarzes and health houses has taken root, and Shirley has applied for a $20 million grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana to establish the system introduced by Iran.

In the face of waning relations between Iran and the U.S., this exchange of information about Iran’s health care system with workers from Delta country may well be one of the small ways in which we begin to re-develop a supporting relationship with Iran and vice-versa.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A few years ago, I inherited a strange piece of paper, relatively undamaged, from my godfather, Markham Peacock, Jr. He passed on to me a certificate that had belonged to his wife, Dora, my second cousin and godmother. The certificate was a $25 share in Le Petit Salon that Dora’s stepmother, Mrs. E. L. Greenlaw had given to her, and the significance of this document was that it was a memento of the literary culture that existed in New Orleans during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Grace King, one of Louisiana’s outstanding authors, presided over this salon as president, and the $25 share was one of 800 stock certificates issued to members and other New Orleanians to purchase the Victor David House for a literary salon in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  Grace King’s signature appears in the lower right corner of the certificate. The salon was frequented by Grace King, Dorothy Dix, Mrs. Roydan Douglas, an attorney and the first woman notary public in the Crescent City, and other notable New Orleans women. I might add that three men were on the original board.

Recently, my good friend, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, distinguished professor of English and BORSF Endowed Professor in the Humanities at ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana, sent me the copy of an article she had written about Grace King and Le Petit Salon for “Louisiana Cultural Vistas.” The article featured the stock certificate I had given to her because she seemed to be the appropriate legatee for this bit of Louisiana literary history. The article is not only beautifully written and gives readers a fascinating glimpse into a literary salon in New Orleans during the 20’s and 30’s, the layout would rival any slick magazine on the market today, showcasing color photographs of Grace King and a painting of Le Petit Salon.

Dr. Wilson, who is a consummate researcher and author, depicts the literary culture of the early 20th century, highlighting a salon that has become a landmark in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She quotes from Le Petit Salon’s charter: “…to promote enjoyment, harmony, refinement of manners and intellectual improvements and to revive, promote and continue the pleasant intercourse of the salon, which gives grace and brilliancy to the old society of this city…” When the Le Petit Salon building became a reality in 1925, 350 members were on the salon’s rolls; today, the salon still exists and meets on Thursdays, “keeping alive the history of such topics as New Orleans silversmiths and the Arts and Crafts movement in New Orleans,” according to Dr. Wilson.

Old newspaper clippings about the salon, from which Dr. Wilson gleaned some of her information, tell of music that accompanied the gatherings of salon members, and Dr. Wilson reports “double billing; for example, ‘This Thursday afternoon there will be a talk on ‘Aristotle and the Human Soul’ with songs by Miss Wolfe.’” Programs also featured poems accompanied by renditions of the music of Franz Liszt and Brahms. Dr. Wilson cites some of the famous visitors to the salon as Prince Matchabelli, The Count and Countess from the Imperial Court of Vienna, as well as actors and actresses from New Orleans' counterpart in culture, Le Petit Theatre. Sherwood Anderson, Oliver Lafarge, Tennessee Williams, and Eleanor Roosevelt also attended programs at the salon. During Dr. Wilson’s research forays, she discovered a golden anniversary commemorative pamphlet, “Le Petit Salon: A History of Its Fifty Years which provided valuable information about the salon frequented by intellectual women of New Orleans.

This article by Dr. Wilson and the entire summer issue of “Louisiana Cultural Vistas” is a must read for those interested in Louisiana history and culture. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing the famous stock certificate I passed on to Dr. Wilson and featured in the article.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Several years ago a group of us who attend St. Mary Convent services here on the bluff raised money to aid the Sisters of the Community of St. Mary in their mission to the Faith-Hope-Love Rescue orphanage in Port au Prince, Haiti. With the funds raised, the Sisters bought and took a water purifier to the orphanage and supplied medical items, refurbished some of the orphanage rooms, and made repairs where needed. A year later, we began to raise funds for a second mission; however, when the earthquake struck, the Sisters immediately sent their funds to the Episcopal Relief Fund to help victims of the earthquake.

Since that time, we have had several updates about the orphanage, the most hopeful one being that the children in this orphanage survived the disaster. The latest news came a few days ago from the director of the orphanage, along with a plea for supplies and help. The children at the orphanage have chicken pox! Almost half of the children there, a nanny’s daughter, and their cook have had chicken pox. One of the young girls, Rosa, has HIV, and the case of pox was more severe for her. She still has not fully recovered. On July 4, other children broke out with the disease, and the director asked for our prayers.

On the more positive side, the orphanage received a new generator from Somebody Cares America and Union County Baptist Association in South Carolina. The orphanage also acquired a new double cab, 4WD, diesel truck and new beds for the children.

Alas, both refrigerators in the orphanage stopped working, and the director was forced to use food money to buy acyclovir. Care for thirty children always brings new demands, and Dorothy Pearce, the director, reports that current needs include:

  • Pediasure (the formula designed to be the sole food for a tube-fed child)
  • Infant formula, milk based with iron
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Whole house water filtration system to filter water as it leaves the cistern and before it reaches the faucets to supply fifteen to twenty gallons of water per day
  • Erythromycin suspension to treat an outbreak of staph infections
  • Acyclovir for children with chickenpox
  • A propane refrigerator
For those of you who attended the poetry reading in New Iberia, LA that featured children from the orphanage, Gertie and Lovensky images, while Darrell Bourque and I read poems dedicated to them, the news is that Gertie (Darrell’s poem featured her) is now back with her family, and Lovensky (about whom I read a poem) died.

Children in Haiti still need help, and if you'd like to make a donation for the orphanage’s needs, Sister Miriam says that the Sisters of St. Mary and a group of volunteers will be returning there in November or March of the following year when they have raised enough funds.

Thank you for your support of this project during the past two years. The pictures in the blog were supplied by Director Dorothy Pearce. The first one is of Rosa who is suffering from chicken pox, and the other is of a worker holding one of the infants in the orphanage. Most of the children at the orphanage are sick or dying.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of snipes, a member of the wader family who are close relatives to the woodcock. They have a long slender bill that they use like a sewing machine to catch their invertebrate prey and look like they could scissor anything that comes into their view into tiny bits. If you’ve ever been the victim of a human sniper, you can draw close parallels to the behavior of this wading bird.

A few days ago, a good friend of mine became the object of the kind of human sniper who fits the definition: “to criticize adversely a person or persons from a position of security; to make underhand remarks or attacks.” Such a “bird” with the long sharp bill also uses innuendo to achieve his/her purposes and is very adept at doing this from a distant or concealed place.

Human snipers who attack with malice are the antithesis of those who practice civility, often masquerading behind the secure title of “Christian” while they point out perceived flaws in other persons, and when challenged, claim “it’s the other person’s fault.” Narcissists are a variation of the sniper species and are very adept at sniping, bombarding people with little bursts of criticism in short, precise blasts so that victims frequently don’t know what hit them.

Sniping is prevalent in the media, amidst politicians, church-goers, and in the workplace where the art of civility, which I have written about before, has almost become defunct. Snipers don’t anger mature people so much as they unjustly hurt sensitive feelings, and they have an uncanny sense of knowing certain persons’ vulnerability. Their game is called “gotcha,” and it’s an old game that persists in select clannish cultures that prize sarcasm and ridicule, and whose members use people to their advantage.

I once read Scott Peck’s book entitled THE PEOPLE OF THE LIE, a treatise on human evil, and came across the statement that most of us can tell when a person is genuinely evil by the repulsion we feel when someone like a sniper approaches. The advice he gave is akin to the advice that I shared with my injured friend: “Run like hell.” However, in my personal theology, there’s no shame in speaking the truth. Most snipers use non-sequiturs to divert victims from delivering the truth to them.

Christ himself was deeply angered at snipers, those Pharisees and Sadducees who played the “gotcha” game with him. He didn’t excuse the behavior, drip syrupy platitudes into their vicious game playing, but answered them back pretty strongly: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! .For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faith. …you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence…”

I told my friend not to feel badly if she acted defensively and directed pertinent questions to the offender. Sniping is an unjust game and it wasn’t my friend’s fault that she felt the same kind of irritation and indignation that the “One Whom None Can Hinder” experienced while he was dealing with those unjust Pharisees he called “vipers.”

Viper…sniper…they’re one and the same.


A few days ago, I received a request for 75 copies of a young adult book that I wrote about a healer, aka a traiteur, who was the main character in MARTIN’S QUEST, and I was dismayed to find that there were only nineteen copies in the inventory, which was not nearly enough to provide for a supplemental social studies text in a parish of southwest Louisiana. More copies of MARTIN’S QUEST have been sold than  any of my published books because, in south Louisiana, traiteurs abound and practice folk medicine.

Healing has always been a subject that fascinated me, and two Sundays ago, I preached on the Gospel story about the man with many demons whom Christ healed by sending the demons into a herd of pigs. The afternoon before I finished the sermon, Ruth Allen, a friend here at Sewanee, dropped by to share her manuscript, which is being readied for publication. It's entitled THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SPIRIT OF REIKI: ONE SOURCE, ONE SPIRIT and is a firsthand account of her call to the healing ministry of Reiki (Reiki has been condemned as a method of alternative healing by the Roman Catholic Church although it’s based primarily on the Holy Spirit and prayer). Ruth’s call and subsequent spiritual journey took her to the apex of graduation from the seminary here at Sewanee, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, she was able to form her personal synthesis of the Holy Spirit and Reiki that became material for a thesis. From that material, she has formed a book that should be welcomed by all readers interested in the subject of healing, particularly healing through touch and the medium of prayer.

John Killinger tells us that in a world where energy is the basis for all life, prayer transmits energy through the medium of God’s Spirit to the person in need of that energy, regardless of how far away from us he or she may be. It’s called non-local prayer, and when you pray you are lending your willful energy to God for that person’s use. The important thing for us to learn about prayer is that we can make our own energies available to God on behalf of other persons who need them. The manifestation of God’s power to heal in our lives is sometimes reflected in the world as action by clergypersons, Reiki masters, even wounded people who have learned to use their pain by turning it into a vessel for healing others.

In my sermon, I was tempted to include some of Ruth’s anecdotal passages about the healings of which she has been a part, but decided I wouldn’t scoop her book in a sermon. However, I did quote a few reflections from the book because I thought they were such powerful illustrations of the Holy Spirit influencing Ruth to further develop her ability as a Reiki Master.

She writes: “Christians who practice Reiki place themselves in the presence of God by aligning their deepest desires for healing and wholeness with God’s deepest desires for healing and wholeness for the world. If we listen, in the silence we can hear God’s gentle voice of guidance, inspiration, and empowerment. Silence awakens our awareness of the ‘inner light,’ the Holy Spirit, whose power can energize our spirits and inspire us more fully to become God’s mediators of healing…Each person has been given a gift(s) of the Spirit, which is directly connected to his/her call. These gifts endow us with what we need to answer our call and fulfill it. Regardless of what God is calling you to do with your life, the following prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic of the 16th century, portrays Jesus’ plea to each of us. ‘You are Christ’s hands. /Christ has no body now on earth but yours. /no hands but yours, no feet but yours. /Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s /compassion is to look upon the world. /Yours are the feet with which God is to go about doing good. /Yours are the hands through which God is to /bless men and women now.”

I conveyed all of this in a sermon and added a few lighter anecdotes, then talked about the ministry of presence. The essence of that healing ministry is for a person to be a quiet presence for a suffering person and to heed Aelred’s words. “Here we are, you and I, and, I hope, a third, Christ, in our midst.’”

I don’t usually include sermon excerpts in a blog, but I felt inspired to disseminate Ruth’s message and am among many here on The Mountain who wish her well with the publication of her book about Reiki and the Holy Spirit.