Saturday, March 10, 2018

*Maya Angelou Crackers Sometimes

"When they go, Ghana will be here. They are like mice on an elephant's back. They will pass...He is just part of Africa." --All God's Children Need  Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

The American writer and poet, Maya Angelou was among the last of a generation who were raised under the full weight of segregation. As a child in rural Stamps, Arkansas, Ms. Angelou was privileged to be the grand daughter of a land owning woman with an independent business in the village of Stamps. From her relatively secure position, she became educated and an inveterate reader of all types of literature.
Steeped in the ways of the old South, by necessity, Ms. Angelou's early life formed a resolute character that later supported her as she forged forward to New York's Harlem in the 1950's. A supporter of Martin Luther King and later of Malcolm X, she earned her "radical" stripes early.

Reading her work chronicled together as an autobiography is an eye-opening journey with a brave and determined woman. But she also shows herself to be like anyone anywhere; Ms. Angelou is not perfect.
She repeatedly retorts with prejudices of her own youth and despite her extensive literary style, does at times pejoratively refer to some as "crackers". For the casual reader of Ms. Angelou, this may come as a surprise. She, these days, is perhaps equally well known as one whose words accompany Hallmark greeting cards. Yet a more thorough reading of her works reveals a woman who is complex and honest enough to admit her thoughts and what she learns.  
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes has many nuggets; one in particular is when as the focus of the tale, Maya emigrates to Ghana, intending to leave all the strife behind in America. In Ghana she is surprised and repeatedly confronted with the unexpected:

"Professor, why you let them disturb your heart?"
 I stuttered... 
"They were insulting my people. I just couldn't sit there." 
His smiled never changed. "And your people, they my people?"
"Yes but--I mean American Blacks."
"They been insulted before?"
"And they still live?"
"Yes, but... they also insulted Ghana, your country."
"Oh Sister, as for that one, it is nothing..." 
He said, "This is not their place. In time they will pass. 
Ghana was here when they came. When they go, Ghana will be here. 
They are like mice on an elephant's back. They will pass."

She is then astonished that a simple Ghanaian man could be so secure in this knowledge that he could ignore another's rudeness. 
He concludes his thought with the observation, that even that man, he is also a part of Africa, a place made of many nations, peoples and cultures. Despite many false starts, Ms. Angelou comes to learn that she too has a place while not as a returned African, but as a living, breathing "Black American" in Africa.
This story tells her tale. Spiritually it is poignant in her struggle for understanding of herself and others; she makes sense of the precept of meeting one another on level ground, neither better no worse, telling her experience as she perceives it.

*Ms. Angelou observed her 86th birthday April 4, 2013

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Feast of Saint Valentine

The name "Valentine", is derived from valens, meaning worthy, and was popular in late antiquity.
Of the Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, nothing factual is known except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or more saints of the same name.

At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city.

Of both these St. Valentines, some sort of Acta are preserved, but they are of relatively late date and of no historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.
~excerpt from The Catholic Encyclopedia

The feast day of Saint Valentine, priest and martyr, was included in the Tridentine Calendar, with the rank of Simple, on February 14. In 1955, Pope Pius XII reduced the celebration to a commemoration within the celebration of the occurring weekday. In 1969, this commemoration was removed from the General Roman Calendar. However, it remains one of the Catholic saint days.

The full history of St. Valentine's Day is blurry and nobody really knows who the real St. Valentine was. There are many stories and myths, and there were three different Valentines who were martyred. One was a priest who lived in Rome and was supposedly martyred in 269 A.D. The second, a bishop, lived in Interamna (modern-day Treni) in Italy. There was a very obscure third Valentine who met his fate in Africa. The first Valentine, from Rome, is generally considered the right person and is associated with a charming but also gruesome story:

During the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II from 268 to 270 A.D., it became important to recruit young men to the army, but the response was low because men didn’t want to leave their wives and families. In reaction to the low interest, the emperor decided to prohibit marriages. But Valentine didn’t accept this and secretly performed marriages between young Christian men and women. He was eventually caught and sentenced to death.

The Roman emperors were firmly against the Christians until the fourth century A.D. and persecuted them because they were considered a subversive group. One of the major stumbling blocks to accepting the Christian church were the many holidays in celebration of the pagan gods, in which the people of the Roman Empire believed. For instance, the Apostle Paul founded an altar in Athens to the deity who was called "Unknown God," and immediately used this unknown God to introduce Christianity into that community. By this means the faith came to be accepted.

How Valentine's path to Sainthood began--the future saint’s jailer may or may not have had a young daughter, but in any case a young girl began to visit Valentine. He may have fallen in love with her or maybe not, but they met frequently. On February 14, the day that he was to be executed, he wrote her a note and signed it, "From your Valentine." And that is supposedly the origin of the custom of writing one’s beloved a note and signing it with that well-known phrase.
~excerpt from

Here's the gruesome part of the story: Valentine was beaten to death and decapitated. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside Feb. 14 to honor St. Valentine, possibly to turn Roman minds from the licentious behavior associated with the pagan holiday Lupercalia.
~excerpt from

It is kept as a commemoration by Traditionalist Roman Catholics who, in accordance with the authorization given by Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007, use the General Roman Calendar of 1962 and the liturgy of Pope John XXIII's 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, and, as a Simple Feast, by Traditionalists, such as the Society of St. Pius X, Roman Catholics who continue to use the General Roman Calendar as in 1954.

Saint Valentine continues to be recognized as a saint, since he is included in the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church's official list of saints. The feast day of Saint Valentine also continues to be included in local calendars of places such as Balzan and Malta, where relics of the saint are claimed to be found.
~excerpt from Wikipedia