Appalachia Bare is very grateful for our readers. We hope you enjoy all the posts with interesting information about Appalachia and the creative talents within her. Talents certainly do abound in these mountains, hills, and valleys. Allow us just a moment to feature one such talent – our Associate Editor, Edward Francisco.
We consider it an honor and privilege to have such an exceptionally gifted writer and colleague on our team. He has written in all genres – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, essays, journalism, etc. – with at least ten published books and works in almost one hundred other publications. He’s a most beloved professor of English, Shakespeare, fiction writing, and poetry at Pellissippi State Community College, where he is also writer in residence. He’s a compassionate and benevolent humanitarian, a social justice warrior, and a consummate gentleman with an impeccably stylish fashion.
Appalachia Bare is proud to feature Edward Francisco’s official website, along with three writings from his forthcoming 2021 book, The Ever Changing Sky: Meditations on the Psalms, published by Resource Publishers. Ed’s unique perspective on life and issues shines through in every meditation. Each section ventures to understand the world around us through connections, relationships, humor, nature, and solitude.
Please visit edwardfrancisco.com to find out more about Ed’s books, awards and distinctions, bibliography, etc.
Enjoy this preview of Ed’s forthcoming book, The Ever Changing Sky: Meditations on the Psalms (Resource Publishers):
“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
Most days I’m confronted by the fact that life is a tragedy. After all, we leave home each day with insufficient knowledge but are required to behave as if we’re omniscient. We’re buffeted by forces we can see and ones we can’t. Believing we’re acting consciously, we’re too often victimized by unconscious impulses, lusts, fears, fantasies, and death wishes of every variety. It’s a perilous proposition-living most days.
Yet, occasionally I’m reminded that bleak appearances belie a more comic reality. After all, Christianity makes a claim for redemption. In that sense, then, it is a comic religion in which, no matter what terrors we encounter on the landscape of life, there is always a guarantee of living happily ever after. Perhaps it is a deep and intuitive sense of this reality that explains our fascination with myths, fairy tales, and fantasy literature.
Not so with everyone, however. Just today a friend forwarded me an article from the London Telegraph entitled “Harry Potter fails to cast spell over Richard Dawkins.” Author of The Selfish Gene and arguably the world’s more famous atheist, Dawkins plans to discover “whether tales of witchcraft and wizardry have a negative effect on children.” Operating from a series of foregone conclusions, Dawkins is “stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in ‘anti-scientific’ fairytales.” “I haven’t read Harry Potter,” Dawkins admits. Of course, he doesn’t have to. As if by some magical act of divining, Dawkins knows what he would find in the Potter series without having to read a single page.
I met Dawkins last year at Oxford when I delivered a paper at the Oxford Round Table positing that the language of spirituality was mythic, fabalistic, and paradoxical, by necessity. Arriving late for our session, Dawkins gave the air of someone too busy to stay in one place very long and too distracted to give proper attention to anyone else’s ideas. If I had an astrological chip on my shoulder (Dawkins would scoff at such an ancient but unscientific form of knowledge!), I might describe Dawkins as a typical Aries: someone who is impulsive, acting first, asking questions or having doubts later. Ironically, people who dabble in astrology describe people born under the sign of Aries as the most “naïve and childlike of individuals in the Zodiac. They are children at heart and the world is always a magical place for them.” What better word than naïve to describe the contradictory tendency to “demolish” mythical thinking while, in the same breath declaring, as Dawkins does, “I don’t know what to think about magic and fairy tales”? Nor what better evidence demonstrating that humans are anything but rational creatures?
It consoles me to know that we are all cosmic clowns, characterized by folly, foibles, and failures we rarely recognize. Oddly, our status as wise fools peopling a comic universe inspires in me the hope that all is not yet settled and that life, far from being rational, blossoms with mystery and infinite possibility just begging to be discovered by the child in all of us.
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.”
Outside there is a lull in the crickets’ enthusiasm as autumn is almost on us. My wife Linda says she welcomes fall, that life returns to her in that season. By contrast, I am summer’s advocate, mourning its brevity and groaning like a child forced to leave the playground and return to class. Yesterday I was walking near the lake and spotted some purple pokeweed with even purpler berries. As children, my pals and I would crush the berries, making what we called “Indian dye” out of them. What we made, of course, was a mess.
Many are the mornings I wake and wonder about my childhood companions. At times, I even say a prayer for them, hoping the mystery of their lives has deepened into “joy and praise” for all they’ve become in the years since we first played. After all, by what act of grace were we brought together in the first place, and what did we learn by being children together? It is a mystery worth contemplating, though I suspect I’ll never reach the bottom of it since “deep calleth unto deep,” as the Psalmist said. I may have to be content to recall the melancholy droning of crickets outside the window of a room where I once slept.
Sometimes I think I’m the only fool in existence. No one else, it seems, bothers much about time. Almost everyone I know accepts the passing of the seasons without a murmur. Then I recall the famous passage of Augustine’s in which he reminds us that even during a brief conversation, our hair continues to grow, though never so suddenly that we need a barber straightaway. In this way, our existence fades away. We pass on.
Once, at about age eight, I climbed up into a swing set and watched the rim of a furious sun disappear behind the silhouette of distant hills. It was the first time in my life I felt carried beyond myself and the place where I happened to be sitting. It was also the first time I understood that I could be in two places at once, grieving for one without wanting to leave the other.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
I just finished reading an article by William Deresiewicz in American Scholar magazine about the importance of solitude as a requirement for leadership. “The ability to be alone with your own thoughts,” says the author, “is one of the most important necessities of leadership.” Deresiewicz believes that leaders must be able to think independently, creatively, and flexibly – qualities that can only be nurtured in the silent spaces of one’s own being.
I couldn’t agree more. However, I would extend the writer’s observations to suggest one cannot develop as a full-fledged human being without the requirement of solitude. Solitude forces us to focus on the self under construction not afforded by physical and psychological noise.
Yet the marketing culture in which we live is designed to snag our attention at every available opportunity, forcing more of us to adopt strategies of multi-tasking just to get done what we feel compelled to do. Simple empirical observation suggests that most people can’t do one thing well, let alone four or five things at the same time. But Deresiewicz doesn’t stop there. He cites research showing that multi-tasking impairs cognitive functioning and that the more a person multi-tasks, the less effective he or she is at multi-tasking. Here is the author’s statement on the matter in full:
Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.
Being able to focus and to make independent judgments are anathema to a culture of corporate proprietorship. However, these are qualities necessary to the making of human minds and souls. The early Christian mystics understood the need for retreating to the desert where they could encounter themselves and God in solitude. It’s worth considering: in the presence of so much noise, distraction, and salesmanship, who will be left who can detect the “still, small voice” of God whispering in the silent chambers of our hearts?
**Featured image source: Pellissippi State Community College Facebook
Eddie, congratulations on your new book and your impressive track record of publications. If more Christians read and rifted from the Bible in your contemplative and expansive way, perhaps the New Atheists, like Dawkins and Hitchens, would have less to rail about. I am not a fan of their arrogant militancy, but do agree with their criticisms of the darker side of religion (as wielded by the less thoughtful). Regardless of whether I share your world view or not, your writing is enlightening and thought provoking in substance and in style. Some day we need to sit down for a heart-to-heart about how two kids whose paths intersected at Rivermont Presbyterian wandered off in such wildly divergent directions.
Jimmy, I would love that! As always, I hearken to your insights.
I love these excerpts and look forward to reading the whole book.