Friday, June 30, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 7-6-17

Notes From My Knapsack 7-6-17

Jeff Gill



Slowing down the times



This is not about a super power, which I would be delighted to have if they existed. Invisibility, mind reading, flying, those would all be cool.


What I'm talking about is the ability, which I believe almost any of us has if we choose to develop it, to become mindful on a different level than we usually exercise.


The particular practice I have in mind is that of slowing down our perceptions to where we can see what is actually happening right in front of us, but which we often miss because of the speed at which our minds have grown accustomed to working.


We've all paused to look at clouds, right? If you stop and settle yourself and have a good solid perspective on the cloud above you, odds are you can detect its movement. Plant your feet and pick a spot, especially with an edge of treeline or a building's roof, and you can see that cloud moving.


Once you've adjusted your observation to that level, you can often shift over to the puffs and extrusions of the cloud itself, and see these thousand foot domes and towers rise and topple, surging and collapsing.


It's slow, but it's discernable. You can detect it, and it happens all around you, but you generally don't notice it. When you calm yourself, center yourself, and focus, it's right there, amazing to behold.


A little closer to home, there's the passage of the sun. If you're just sitting on the porch of an afternoon, there's probably an edge of the house casting a shadow on the driveway or sidewalk or patio. Look at that line of light and darkness, and begin to see it move. Later (or earlier) in the day it's a little more noticeable than around noon, but you can see it even then if you can wait, and watch, and be with the moment.


Not long ago I was watching the full moon in the east through binoculars, and there was a high power line in the distance which showed up clearly against the white and grey of the lunar surface. Keeping my focus, I could see the moon rise up and pass along behind the dark, narrow line, a steady stately pace.


It took me back to a year or so ago when I sat with others at the Octagon Earthworks (FYI, the next open house day there is Monday, July 31) and watched the moon set, late enough at night that you could see it after sunset coming down to the horizon, the long arc of its orbit intersecting with the straight line of earthen embankment just as designed 2,000 some years ago. I felt a connection with the builders, and with the cosmos, as I got in tune with that movement.


And just the other day, I watched patiently as a sprig of rosemary, a new leaf, unfurled bit by bit. It moved, and I moved with it in the stillness.


This column, in closing, is also a tribute to someone I had this conversation with a few years ago, who died last week: National Park Service ranger and earthworks aficionado and delightful human being, Bruce Lombardo. Someone I watched the sun set with many times. Godspeed, Bruce!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he thinks you can see these things, too! Tell him how your experiments in awareness go at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Faith Works 7-1-17

Faith Works 7-1-17

Jeff Gill


Lincoln's parenthesis



Actually, it's between em dashes.


And it includes a phrase not in the original draft, but shown in enough contemporary transcripts to be present in the speech as given, plus Lincoln himself added it when re-copying the manuscript later.


"That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom"


That phrase comes between these two statements: "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain" and the closing affirmation "and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


Abraham Lincoln was reflecting on what it meant to dedicate a place of memorial for thousands of soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, which began 154 years ago today. He wanted to recruit the listeners that following November, on that great battlefield of the Civil War, to resolve with him that the nation learn something from all this, to grow in unity, to turn away from warfare to some better, less lethal way to sort out questions that divide the country.


Slavery would be ended, that much was clear. But Lincoln was too astute a politician not to realize that we would have future dissention that would raise voices, but should not end up raising armies. So he asked his audience to commit with him that these burial plots and soldiers' headstones not be placed here in vain.


If there were future civil conflicts, after the harsh example of the war of rebellion now surely heading to conclusion, if future generations would not learn from their tragedy but add more bodies to national cemeteries through armed dispute, this nation may well not survive. This was what was on the president's mind as he worked from his prepared text to the delivered speech.


Lincoln's drafts do not include "under God," but his re-copied texts in his own hand, and transcripts by journalists, all agree that Lincoln said those two words. They put either an anchor or a prayer into the phrase that he had hammered out in advance: "That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom." His hope was that out of the conflict and pain and sorrow we might realize where we had gone wrong, and turn in a better direction.


Of course, for 87 years we had managed as a nation, again and again, to sidestep those realizations, to avoid a new possibility to be born in our midst. What would it take for the United States to undergo some form of turning, or repentance, from the path we had been on, to a better way? It would take a power greater than force, more than guns, even bigger than a country already stretching from sea to shining sea.


Lincoln's em dash framed, parenthetical remark, was in a sense the heart of his address. His personal prayer that this nation might have a new birth of freedom once this war was concluded and when peace prevailed. He reasoned his way into the basis for that hope, and he cast a vision leading forward from that hope if fulfilled. It was what had to happen, lest our form of self-government perish from the earth.


So in the actual delivery, two words found themselves added to an already sublime speech. Lincoln said them, spoke them in the moment, almost as an act of grace itself, making real and possible and true the rest of what he was speaking: "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." Two little, simple words, whose rhythm fit the pattern he was seeking, and whose meaning said what he hoped we would hear, as a nation, as citizens, as souls seeking healing after a long season of conflict.


Two words which offer the willing hearer a path to possibility and transformation and peace:


"Under God."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he loves to visit Gettysburg, but he loves a good Fourth of July parade even more! Wave at him in a passing parade, or contact him at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.



Drafts of the Gettysburg Address: