I have enjoyed watching the many Fireworks shows across the nation for our Country’s 238th Birthday, and noted a couple of things that got me thinking.
Who doesn’t love Fireworks? Remember that Fireworks were Gandalf’s specialty, as he was the bearer of the Ring of Fire. Tolkien describes him in an essay on the Istari (Wizards) in Unfinished Tales:
“Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise… Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff, and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf ‘the Elf of the Wand’. For they deemed him (though in error) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times work wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear. … Yet it is said that in the ending of the task for which he came he suffered greatly, and was slain, and being sent back from death for a brief while was clothed then in white, and became a radiant flame (yet veiled still save in great need).” — J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, 390-391.
During more than one Fireworks this year, the soundtrack included some music celebrating us as a nation of Immigrants:
The first is Neil Diamond’s modern Classic, “Coming to America”:
The second is an instrumental cover of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Brilliant “America” from West Side Story:
And concluding with some of the bars from the show’s signature song, the moving “Somewhere”:
I presume everyone knows that West Side Story is an update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. If you’ve never seen it, see it on stage or DVD. The genius of Shakespeare is matched by that of Bernstein and Sondheim.
With all of this celebration of us as a Nation of Immigrants, it is time for (my old friends) the Republicans to stop their blockage of Immigration Reform. Good for the President for working to get things done. And Boo! to those Murrieta CA protesters who blocked the busloads of immigrants whom the border service wanted to lawfully process to return to their home countries. “America for Americans,” they shout, ignorant of the fact that we are strong because we come from so many other places.
The former Deacon of my old Parish, Fr. Gerry Sondergaard, told the story of his Irish Grandfather getting off the boat in New York, not yet even processed for immigration, who criticized the Italian-American dock workers who were speaking Italian. “Listen to that, they can’t even speak English!” he said. I suppose there have always been rivalries between immigrant groups, as West Side Story illustrates, but our Immigrants are our shining treasure.
In the DC 4th of July Celebrations, the fabulous Patti LaBelle sang “Over the Rainbow” in celebration of the movie’s 75th Anniversary this year. Here’s a 1989 version:
And that, of course, got me thinking about The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900 by Baum and Illustrator W.W. Denslow. It was a huge hit, and has been translated to stage and most famously, the 1939 Movie Musical starring Judy Garland.
Baum and his wife were esotericists, members of the Theosophical Society since 1892, and were supporters of Women’s Suffrage and the Rights of Native Americans. They believed in God, but thought that religious decisions should be made by mature minds, rather than religious authorities.
His spiritual views are well represented in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and translate well to the silver screen. The culminating message of Interior Gnosis has been taught to young and old for over a century:
And he isn’t alone. P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins novels, was a follower of the Fourth Way (Gurdjieff and Ouspensky). As she wrote:
Many are those down the ages who, sorrowing for their own lack of watchfulness, have too late learned what it means to pay attention, that it is not something that simply happens, nor to be had by chance…
If man has within him the potential, if only as a germ, to share in the consciousness of the universe, even to glimpse at moments certain aspects of the Unknown (behold, I show you a mystery!) above all, to learn to know himself, can this be done without attention?
And what of that word “pay”? First of all the whole person, all the functions closely cohering—thought, feeling, bodily sensation—must be ready, vigilant, alert; and to preface this ingathering there must be present in us—one can sum it up in one single word: attention’s closest kin, intention. P. L. Travers, Sunflower, Parabola Magazine, Vol. XV, No. 2, Summer 1990, p. 84.
It is no wonder that as the Mary Poppins series went on, the heroine became more and more obviously associated with Divine Wisdom. I’m not just making this up. In the Graphic Novel series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, she appears in her full Divine Role:
“Thus the caring, motherly side of God, in the form of Mary Poppins, came down from the heavens to destroy the Antichrist. She did this by altering reality to transform the Antichrist into a chalk drawing. With the words “splish, splash”, she summoned a rainfall to wash away the chalk drawing. Mary Poppins appears to represent Shekhinah, Binah, or Sophia. Mary Poppins is a personification of all these concepts, and as such, she represents the feminine side of God that cares for the welfare of mankind. Mary Poppins reveals her godly status by informing the Antichrist that she is on ‘every page’ of the Bible, whereas he is in ‘just the one book’).” — http://lxg.wikia.com/wiki/Mary_Poppins.
Now that’s Supercalifragalisicexpialidicious!
George MacDonald (Congregationalist), C.S. Lewis (Anglican), J.R.R. Tolkien (Roman Catholic), Charles Williams (Anglican & Esotericist), Dorothy Sayers (Anglican), Madeleine L’Engle (Episcopalian), and J.K. Rowling (Anglican) are all very spiritual authors. MacDonald rejected predestination and taught universal salvation (Apocatastasis), as did L’Engle. He also rejected the “Penal Substitution” theory of Christ’s Salvation of All. Charles Williams was initiated into A.E. Waite’s Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.
I mention this because Right-Wing Christian Religious groups often warn against this kind of children’s literature as having an agenda.
Let me clarify. By Right-Wing Christian Religious Groups I mean the kooky far-right fringe of Christianity. Certainly the worst is the Westboro “Baptist” Church, but there are many others. It isn’t only Islam that has nutty fundamentalists. We do too. The difference is that, happily, for the most part, we keep ours sidelined, while a country like Saudi Arabia is in full league with them (the Wahhabis). We must tolerate these extremist Fundamentalist Christians, but for heaven’s sake (literally), don’t let them have any control over our life as a people.
Well, I am here to tell you that, of course, the reasonable and loving spiritual beliefs that authors like Baum, Travers and the others mentioned above come through in their writings. Of course I hope that your children listen to the message and reject your ignorance. As my old professor Jaroslav Pelikan wrote:
Right-thinking and God-loving people of good will, the natural opponents of fanatics and fundamentalists, have always wanted to influence the young to the benefit of the children, who are our future, the Spes Gregis (Hope of the Flock). Perhaps the most famous person who was accused of “corrupting the youth,” was Socrates, who was only trying to show people the errors of their ways. Who would not want to let young people being raised in willful ignorance by their benighted parents, know that there is a better way?
φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον, ὅτι ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει, ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. — 1 John 4:18.
Fundamentalists of all Creeds are filled with Fear, as they instinctively know that their grip on the world is loosening, and they are bound to fail as their “faith” is baseless. I most certainly hope that the children of these communities listen to the message proclaimed by such authors as I have mentioned, and keep hope alive for when they are free to move beyond their parents’ ignorance and fear. Perfect Love really does cast out Fear, in our world just as it does in Oz, Middle-Earth and Hogwarts.
So that’s what I’m seeing from July 5! Let Freedom Ring!
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Membership Services