“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, --
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson
It is a sad time indeed. A gentle and learned man named Father Harry Cook died a couple of days ago. He spent many years preaching as an Episcopalian priest, and a Christian journalist not timid in his beliefs. He was a social justice Giant and a down to earth man who spread the words of God while professing he no longer believed in a deity. He believed in people, and passion. He wrote from his heart, and never lied to make any point. He espoused the teaching in John 8:32 that the truth will definitely set us all free.
A respectable part of my own view on what is just and correct I learned from his readings. I was introduced to him from a friend, another Episcopalian priest with a different demeanor from the norm, about ten or eleven years ago. I am not or at least do not consider myself, a wise man. I seek wisdom in order to make sense of the conflagration that the world is enduring where it come to how we treat out fellow man. The world certainly seems to be on fire and there are too few firemen.
Father Cook was one of the best.
I have not been reading his weekly essays for a while due to a busy writing schedule of my own. I have saved them and will get to put them into my daily prayer routine. Father Cook wondered about the efficacy of prayer but my belief was that his words were as powerful as prayers and my belief in them has yet to fail me. I believe Father Cook would not take umbrage with my belief in prayer, as long as I continued to love my fellow man, and maintain a “give your shirt and your coat” mentality in my heart and mind
I could go down the list of his readings and purport that I understand all, but that would not be honest. I could speak of things I have learned but it is probable that, given the reality of an age related poor memory, I would confuse it all with other learned men I follow. As I said, I myself am not wise. I am a guy that sometimes strings words together in a pleasing manner. Sometimes the collections of words I use are not so pleasant. I write from a need to communicate and to, perhaps someday, gain, and convey wisdom almost as well as Father Cook. I reiterate…almost. I resist the idea that I could ever fit into this giant’s shoes. The best I can do is extend you the last words he left us;
+ Love the English language and use it with respect and care. None of us is Shakespeare redivivus. Winston Churchill, H.L. Mencken and Graham Greene still stand alone with their Firsts in English composition. They should be our standard.
+ A question -- and, indeed, its formulation -- is likely to be more rewarding than straining to produce a quick answer. Inquiry, research and hypotheses tend to invite more thorough thoughtfulness -- a supreme value in human relationships at any level. If you have never read the work of the late philosopher Richard Rorty and his take on what he termed "contingency," now would be as good a time as any to do so.
+ Beware the politician who runs for office with an index finger pointed at those of an identifiable nationality or ethnic group whilst blaming the woes of the nation on them. Jews were long victims of such an evil, African Americans and Native Americans, as well. Mexicans and Muslims in recent times became targets of such calumny. Who needs a reprise of Nazism?
+ Resist the claims of absolute truth made by those who march under various religious banners. No one can possibly know what any possible deity wants or wills. Likewise, no one can encompass the whole truth about anything.
+ Conserve Earth, her atmosphere, her waterways and seas, her land, her creatures as good stewards would estates entrusted to their care and protection. One can lick away on an ice cream cone only so long before it disappears.
+ Help society understand that punitive incarceration in and of itself is cruel and unusual punishment. Justice is not served by putting people behind bars in violent environments. In the same spirit, help society understand that capital punishment is legalized murder, collective vengeance under the guise of doing justice.
Give all you can to encourage compassion for women who struggle to retain control of their own bodies where unwanted or dangerous pregnancies are concerned. Tell the anti-abortion zealots that, if they oppose the practice, they should take care not to submit to it.
At least once a year, listen to all six of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerti (BWV 1046-1051) and overture to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492) as well as his Symphony No. 41, (K. 551), the Jupiter. Each one of them is guaranteed to bestow upon the listener both joy and profundity, mercifully tuning out the mindless cacophony that presses in on every side.
+ Above all, follow the wisdom offered by Hillel the Great more than two millennia ago: "What you hate, do not do to another." The great sage must have known that such behavior as a habit runs contrary to nature. Also he must have believed that humankind could outdo nature. William Faulkner in his speech accepting the 1949 Nobel Prize in literature appeared to have shared Hillel's optimism: I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. As a dear bishop friend was wont to say, "May it be so."
Harry T. Cook – Rest in Peace
Here is a link to his obituary: