Monthly Archives: December 2005

Gandhi and prayer services

From Book of Prayers by Mohandas K. Gandhi, ed. John Strohmeier (Berkeley Hills Books, 1999), this passage in the introduction discusses why Gandhi took the time for daily worship:

Why, one might wonder, take the time to do all this [daily prayer services] in the middle of a revolution? Gandhi was not one to cling to empty forms. An answer may be found in the testimony of someone who observed Gandhi during one of those evening prayers. As you read it, bear in mind that the nineteen verses of the second chapter of the [Bhagavad] Gita, the description of the illumined man [sic], is widely regarded as the Sermon on the Mount of Hinduism:

“The sun had set when we got back [from his regular evening walk]. Hurricane lanterns were lit; Gandhi settled down at the base of a neem tree as ashramites and the rest of us huddled in Some hymns were sung, then Gandhi’s secretary began reciting the second chapter of the… Bhagavad Gita. Then it happened.

“Not that I can describe it very easily. Gandhi’s eyes closed; his body went stock still; it seemed as though centuries had rolled away and I was seeing the Buddha in a living person. I was what we had almost forgotten was possible in the modern world: a man who had conquered himself to the extent that some force greater than a human being… moved through him and affected everyone.”

…Gandhi had the power to shake India, in part, because he drew on resources within himself that are not normally accessible. And that access happened, among other occasions, at the high point of these prayer meetings….

There is a tendency to think that meditation and action are opposties, that one chooses between one way of life or the other. But as the Bhagavad Gita insists, meditation and selfless action are inseparable. They are opposite sides of the same coin, as complementary as breathing in and breathing out….” [pp. 14-15]

While of course we might phrase this differently to fit the context of our Western religious tradition, it is still true that worship services in our tradition are not escapes from the world, but a way for us to change the world. Worship unleashes powers that can heal us and heal the world; and it is probably dangerous for us to ignore this point.

Server issues

Looks like I lost everything posted to this blog from Monday to yesterday, inclusive — which may include some comments as well. I had a version of yesterday’s post on my computer, and that’s back up. However, other posts and any comments from the past three days are gone. My apologies, and I’m working to resolve the issues with my hosting service.

Update, Feb 11, 2006: somehow, those lost posts eventually reappeared after the server switch was complete….

Winter vista

Walked across to Fairhaven this afternoon. High thin clouds had already covered the sky; the harbor and the sky were both gray. I was hoping to see sea ducks on the harbor, but aside from a few Buffleheads I saw few waterbirds. On the way back from Fairhaven, I stopped at the north end of Pope’s Island, stood for a while on the expanse of asphalt parking lot between Fairhaven Hardware and Dunkin Donuts. Through the binoculars I could see a raft of sea ducks far up in the harbor, black-and-white specks bobbing in the water almost to Interstate 195. I moved the binoculars to the old brick Fairhaven Mills building, nearly a hundred years old. Home Depot wants to bulldoze it and erect another big-box retail store that will last maybe twenty-five years before it has to be demolished. Carol and I snuck up to the top floor of the mill one afternoon last month, imagining what it would be like to have an office, or a store, or an apartment in that big, vast space; the tall windows with their views of the Acushnet River and the harbor, the skylights giving the space an open roomy feeling. The New Bedford City Council quickly voted to give Home Depot the permit to destroy; they have witnessed how the mallification of North Dartmouth sucked the life out of downtown New Bedford, and they must have thought, if we’re going to suck the life out of the downtown at least we can keep the tax dollars in the city. I moved the binoculars down the the wetlands sandwiched between the interstate and the harbor. With the binoculars, I could see that Phragmites, or Common Reeds, dominated the wetlands; a non-native species that offers little to the rest of the ecosystem while pushing out native flora and fauna; thus degrading the overall ecosystem. The dull tan stand of reeds offered little contrast to the dreary gray waters of the harbor. On late December days like this it’s hard to feel much hope. No leaves on the trees to soften the cityscape; no falling snow to gently cover the worst of the city’s ugliness; just dreary gray sky, dreary gray water, no sea ducks to watch diving, the only people in sight stay mostly hidden inside their cars, the only sound the rush of traffic on U.S. Route 6 behind me. Whatever hopelessness I feel is probably just a cold coming on, or a reaction to the short, dark days. These short days wear on you, we have a long way to go before spring comes, but at least by this time of year the days can only get longer. Then five Common Mergansers swam out of their hiding place among the docks of the deserted marina to my left, swimming away from me, warily looking back to see what I would do; the dull reddish heads of the females appearing bright against the grayness of the day. When they got a little farther out, they began to dive, staying under for long periods of time as they hunted for food, or perhaps dived just for the sheer joy of it. I stood watching them for a while until the damp cold sunk in. I walked briskly towards home. By the time I got there, I was warm and far more cheerful.

Merry New Bedford Christmas…

After church today, Carol said we had to go down to the hurricane barrier to look at the harbor. We got down there, and walked to the end of the hurricane barrier and back before the clouds moved in.

The whole fishing fleet is in for the holiday, and through the binoculars we could see them lined up three and four deep along the docks on the Fairhaven side and the New Bedford side of the harbor. The inner harbor was sheltered from the light southerly breeze, and was almost dead flat in places. No boat traffic at all; we saw a seal lolling on the surface right in the middle of the main shipping channel. That was the highlight of our walk for Carol.

Needless to say, I was most excited by the many birds that were out. Carol was very tolerant as I kept stopping to look through the binoculars: “Look!” I’d say, stopping yet again. “Horned Grebes! And a Common Loon just dove under the surface!” There were lots of Buffleheads, and Black Ducks, Scaup, Goldeneye, Long-tailed Ducks, a Mallard or two, Common Mergansers. On the way back, I got a good close look at six Brant, the closest I’ve ever gotten to these small geese. That, of course, was the highlight of our walk for me.

We’ve never seen the harbor so quiet. A delightful moment on this Christmas day. And Merry Christmas to you, wherever you are!


Back on December 16, the “Invasive Species Weblog” reported on the ban of 140 non-native plant species from the state. I was walking around the Slocum’s River Reserve in Dartmouth yesterday, looking at the bittersweet and phragmites that are choking out native species while contributing little to the overall ecosystem. (And in addition the invasive plants, there were the sixty or so Mute Swans on Slocum’s River yesterday — talk about agressive non-native species competing with and overwhelming native species!) So I’m glad that once again Massachusetts is at the forefront of ecological action.

Update on the Little Red Book story

UMass Dartmouth professors have alleged that a student was approached by federal officials after requesting Mao’s Little Red Book through interlibrary loan (my original post is here).

The New Bedford Standard-Times has an update of the story online here. The lead for the Standard-Times article plays up the fact that the story they broke has gotten worldwide attention. After seven paragraphs, they finally turn to a Department of Homeland Security official who says, “We’re aware of the claims…. However, the scenario seems unlikely.” Maybe the story is a hoax….

Boing-Boing, a widely-read blog, has been following the story, and in yesterday’s post here there’s an extended quote from an announcement sent out to UMass Dartmouth librarians saying merely that UMass Dartmouth officials are investigating further — as well as a quote from interlibrary loan officials who say, “We do not believe this story is a hoax.” Maybe the story is not a hoax….


I walked across to Pope’s Island today, and over to Fairhaven. A skim of ice covers the quiet backwaters of the harbor on the Fairhaven side. And on the water by the Holiday Inn Express parking lot, two big white graceful birds: a pair of Mute Swans swimming side by side. I also saw dozens of ducks and geese; the inland waters must be freezing over, driving the waterfowl to the estuaries and bays, where the salt content keeps the water mostly open.

The swans had the usual arrogant way of swimming that Mute Swans seem to have. They know they’re pretty so humans won’t touch them; they know they’re bigger than any other animal on the water. All the ducks and geese were fairly shy, and swam warily away as soon as I got too close; but the swans didn’t care where I stood. If they were human, I would have said they’re show-offs.

Waterfowl list for birders: 40 Canada Geese; 2 Mute Swans; ~12 Mallards; 56 Scaup (prob. Greater); 38 Bufflehead; 1 Common Merganser.

Those Brits

BBC News is, of course, covering the legalization of same sex unions in the U.K. today. Headlines on the front page of their Web site? — “Stars pack Elton ‘wedding’ party.” followed by “First in queue, Roger and Keith tie the knot after 14 years of waiting.” Clearly, BBC is playing up the human interest factor, especially the celeb factor.

Does BBC include any video coverage of same sex unions on their Web site? Why, yes they do: “Paparazzi make most of celebrity traffic jam at Sir Elton’s party ” (go to their main page and look at the lower right for “Video and Audio”; video clips usually stay up for less than 24 hours). The story begins this way:

“An extraordinary sight,” says BBC’s in-studio news reader, as we see video footage of expensive cars surrounded by photographers and videographers. “A whole load of celebrities, stuck in a traffic jam, to get into Elton John’s party…. and smiling for the cameras, for you haven’t really got much choice, have you?” Michael Caine, Liz Hurley, Ringo Starr, and more are all captured on BBC’s cameras, sitting in their Bentleys and Rolls Royces. Unfortunately, Duncan Kennedy, the BBC reporter on the scene, has no idea who he’s looking at….

“Yes, it’s Donatello Versace,” begins Mr. Kennedy as he mistakenly identifies one celeb, then corrects himself: “I’m told it’s someone else. Yes, it’s someone else. It’s a blonde lady. We’ve got that one wrong. [pause] I’ve just been told, it’s Claudia Schiffer in fact.”

The BBC news reader in the studio finds this mistake quite amusing, and says, “Duncan, we’ve all decided here that you really need to read the tabloids a little more.” Mr. Kennedy just smiles politely into the camera, clutching his earpiece. “All right, Duncan, that’s right, just pretend you can’t hear me.”

So you see, it’s all about the celebrities. (Advocates for same sex marriage in the United States might wish to take note of this.)