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Atop fourteen-thousand-foot Pikes Peak, Colorado, summer, 1893, a Wellesley English professor and her colleagues rested following their climb, helped by a prairie schooner and mules. The magnificent vista compelled one of them, Katharine Lee Bates (1859 – 1929) to scribble “America The Beautiful” upon scrap paper, a four-stanza metered poem, each stanza with eight lines.

Only the first verse is usually sung, with the music later composed in 1910 by church organist Samuel A. Ward and popularized as a patriotic anthem.

The other three stanzas of “America the Beautiful” allude to Bates’s experience with our then, country’s dark side: the failure of the South’s Reconstruction, the evils of the Industrial Revolution, squalid tenements, crime, disease and deaths that could have been prevented, plight of the native Americans, hunger, prejudice toward Irish and Chinese emigrants, political entanglements, and the Spanish America War she covered as a correspondent for the New York Times.

Incisive assessments of our country’s ills led to her demand as a public speaker, and scores studied her published works. Fueling her zeal was her Congregationalist’s faith—how passionately she wished everyone live in harmony. In the second verse, Bates wrote:

God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

Because she lived close to her vision, Katharine Lee Bates relied upon God, the bestower of beauty, to correct the aberrations of the human family, still at war with each other. I share this vision for our country today.

Happy Fourth of July!

“God damn you, God! Damn you, God! I can’t do this anymore! Do you hear me? It’s over! No more!”

It was January 1986, 2:25 A.M. I couldn’t believe the Nor’easter swamping my old sense of God—No footholds left.

I was three weeks post-op from the revision of my total knee replacement, complicated by massive blood loss and dizzying pain. Discharged from the hospital strapped in a whole-leg splint, I had jolted up in bed, snot and tears dribbling down my chin—it felt like alligators were gnawing upon my new joint. The more I yelled, the better I felt until swallowed by sleep.

Later, a Jesuit laughed when I shared this story, assuring me of my deep relationship with God: lovers behave that way, he had added. Ever since, I’ve been intrigued by Job’s story. He came close to cursing God but did not die. I did, but did not.

Recently, I came across another poetic translation of Job (1987), this time, from Hebrew, by the translator, poet, and scholar Stephen Mitchell. An accompanying Introduction reveals his method of approaching this ancient text, developed within oral and scribal traditions from the seventh to the fifth centuries before the Common Era. One of Mitchell’s commentators placed this parable within “crucial post-Holocaust” literature, a timely study for today’s global suffering, unabated by the return to “normalcy.”

In view of my present circumstances, I’ve paid close attention to Job’s concluding words:

I had heard of you with my ears;

   But now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I will be quiet,

Comforted that I am dust.

Job remains a trustworthy witness to the whirlwind in his psyche, its daunting passage, and resulting experience of ultimate life: A strange friend, during my waiting…

Do You Want To Get Well Again? – John 5:7

Yet another question I pose to myself as I continue reflecting upon Jesus of Nazareth this Holy Week.

Those who received his healing touch or word or presence in first century Palestine remembered, his story committed to oral tradition that fired hearts—especially true of the man, afflicted thirty-eight years with crippling pain and inability to walk as narrated in John’s Gospel. Not only did he roll up his mat and walk, he was challenged to let go of his crankiness and serve others.

So what about this centuries-old invitation to wellness still offered by Jesus? What could have been his intent? Many with chronic pain and illness plea for respite, their drugs only dulling symptoms and educing brain fog. Hopelessness besmirches attitudes and outlooks. Suicide claims lives.

Like that peasant slouching near the pool at the Sheep Gate waiting for the water to move, I had prayed for joint healing, there being no effective medical or surgical treatment by rheumatologists and surgeons—and I was seen by the best wherever I lived. 

Somehow, I slogged on, until discovering AA meetings that jimmied open my psychic heart-crust, tasteless as burnt toast: within, maggots disguised as the seven deadly sins wiggled and tangled for space. Such disorder was and is amenable of removal through daily application of the Twelve Steps. Jesus says, as much, in his Sermon on the Mount. In my perception, that’s the deeper wellness Jesus intended for the cripple, and for me as I continue healing in my transition, one day at a time.

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