Saturday, March 17, 2018

The World's Worth

“The world is my country; my religion is to do good.”
~Thomas Paine

The World’s Worth

There is no thicket of identities
in this ebb and flow of crowds;
one is at once unique,
while also each and every,
as in the sharing of aspirations,
as in the dreaming of dreams—
we’re all water walking or rolling upright,
moving vertically over a horizontal world,
various mixtures of stardust and desert sand;
but we have yet to fully embrace personhood
as the embodiment of democracy.
What message should we add
to that old corked bottle
we’ll cast onto the oceans of time?
What future there may be
will only be found
where the good person,
in communion with all
others of their ilk,
is the sole expression
of the world’s worth.

© 2018 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Monday, February 19, 2018

To Be or Not To Be ... Anthropocentric

Are we for or against ourselves? 

Perhaps the better question is: If we are for us, when will we start acting like it?

If the questions above seem outrageous, out there, or confusing, let me pause for a moment to offer some brief foundation on which to pin these questions.

I was born in 1961, in Berkeley, CA, a city known for radicalism and protest, then and now. My parents took us on marches. We belonged to the Co-Op. We participated in early ecological efforts. (If anyone can now remember the 1971 oil spill on San Francisco Bay, my mother took my sister and me on AC Transit to San Francisco, so we could all help in the rescue of birds and beach cleanup. This was a very low-tech process at the time. I remember lots of hay being spread about, to absorb the oil. While the beaches and bay were eventually cleaned, despite the efforts of hundreds of people, many birds perished.) We had family friends who had opted out and gone “off grid” by retreating to communes. My parents were more on the side of opting in.

Being a child of the television era, I was acutely aware of the news. Among my very earliest memories is of watching the funeral of JFK on our small, black and white Motorola portable TV. Time inched forward through strikes, assassinations, War, famine in India and Ethiopia. I knew that a war had been declared, by our President, on poverty in our nation. I knew that the Peace Corps, Red Cross and other groups were actively working to help people in other nations stricken by illness and famine. I knew there was war against illiteracy. Unrest was all around. Sometimes, I did not feel safe, but I always felt that most people were working to make the world a better place for everyone. That is a little about my background and those events that informed my understanding of the world.

Today, I look back and see that the Progressive ideas, which had their roots in three and more generations before my birth, have largely failed. We can look at the history that has been written since and find a few overarching reasons for these failures: Military Industrial Complex and rampant, unregulated Capitalism. Progressivism and citizen activism have been undermined by those moneyed interests that prefer maintaining hegemony over influence and power to partaking of an equal share in human rights and justice.

War to bolster hegemony and claim on resources has cost more lives and more money than could ever be imagined. Unrelenting capitalism has enslaved entire populaces to create and exchange worthless junk, designed for rapid failure, that quickly becomes refuse, littering our world with toxicity that threatens to endanger the health and safety of all living beings.

What few people seem to realize, here in 2018, is that the world economies are no longer tied to nations, but to corporations that wield enough wealth and power to actively avoid the attempts of any governmental body that would control them. My proof of this lies in the movement toward privatization of the security sector, and to some extent in the numerous recent wars/conflicts that seem to have been unilateral manipulations by certain governments, but which have profited corporations engaged in “rebuilding efforts”.

It is apparent to me that nationalities and governments no longer hold the keys to human destiny, and this is why terror organizations and nefarious cyber disruptors are currently so successful.

It is also apparent to me that no one at the top is interested in civilization or social wellbeing.

What shocking things to say!

If only humans could be accused of being anthropocentric! But, alas, we cannot.

If we were truly anthropocentric, we would realize that anthropocentrism is a state that must be cultivated. The principal flaw of capitalism is that it can only survive when people buy. But if the world is populated by a few haves, the rest being have-nots, ultimately means that that having is an endgame. If the captains of capitalism don’t get to work cultivating larger groups of haves (people who will be capable of buying because they have knowledge, jobs and health, affordable housing, adequate access to food and water), the “free-for-all” marketplace will die, along with great swaths of the world’s population.

After that, all that is left is warlord military might à la Mad Max. And then, you capitalists, watch out!

The solution, to my mind, lies in a benevolent anthropocentrism, one that buys into a central notion that to keep the world going, you need smart, cultured, engaged, and empathetic people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, genders and cultural affiliations; caring people. Such people know that the earth and all life must be stewarded, and that this cannot be accomplished by stealing, cheating, lying or bullying, but by cooperation toward a common good for everyone and everything. We need to demilitarize the populace. We need to find the root causes of violence, isolation, depression, misanthropy; we need to weed them out by healing, hybridizing and nurturing wellbeing, by loving. We need to dismantle predatory thinking and practices, and replacing them with innovation that breeds life and purpose. We need to cultivate citizenship and personal responsibility that is manifest in every action built from the bottom up, and (as business consultants never tire in speaking of) resonated in the tone from the top.

Evolution, that is I am talking about, folks. We need to evolve. We desperately need to become something we clearly right now are not. We need to become truly human and anthropocentric in the sense that being good to the world around us is the path toward both meeting all our basic needs and providing spiritual fulfillment.

It is a simple idea, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “costing not less than everything.”

Or, as Voltaire has his eponymous hero ultimately declare, “repondit Candide, ‘Oui, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.’”

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blue Moon Blood Moon Eclipse

Wearing a shadow for a covering,
in the coolness of a morning that is not—
for night and day are but a seeming,
guiding that rarest of miracles: vision

—Over this silent music presides the moon,
calling all divine light to rise and water to lie,
and quickening every frozen seed to song
from all measures of waiting slumber.

Such mathematical and unseasonal observances,
of celestial bodies hurtling forward through space,
should swerve and realign misguided churnings
that might trouble a perfect harmonic turn.

In this here and now, wearing a shadow for a covering,
water lies in hushed witness to what eternal moment,
seemingly, is reflected on this still and tensile Bay,
unaware of any unseemly ripple over the fabric of time.

© 2018 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Thursday, January 18, 2018

With A Song in the Heart

            the glare of,
the sun’s benevolent glare
                                    —et amor—
            on her wedding day

birds singing in the trees;
musicians playing and singing;
a song arose in her own heart.

—congregavit nos in unum—
            “we are gathered together”
—simul ergo cum in unum congregemus—
            “as gathered into one body”

behind the glare of the sun
stood an angel aglow with fire,
bearing circlets of rose and lily.

—ne nos mente dividamur—
            “let those who are now joined”
            “not be sundered”

the husband and his brother
deigned to the swim she offered,
according to the song of her heart.

let us Rejoice!
                        for the vision seen
                        for the life given
                        for the love shared

—cantantibus organis—
for while the music played
            the glare of the sun
            tore open the sky
            broke open her heart
            and the stars flocked like birds
            through its torn veil
            bringing their heavenly songs
            to every open place.

—dum aurora finem daret—
at the last stroke,
            into the open earth
            her heart sang out,
            pure to the last
—fiat cor meum immaculatum—

—non confundar

—Deus ibi est

© 2017 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen


Cecilia (patron saint of musicians and poets and venerated in the Roman canon of the mass) is a most unlikely saint from Roman times. No particular miracles are attributed to her, although she was able to convince two men (her new husband and his brother) that she knew an angel; she was martyred because she was a Christian (though, according to legend, was apparently difficult to dispatch); and when her remains were uncovered centuries later, they were incorrupt, to the astonishment of those who discovered them. There are a few quotes attributed to her that are probably derivative of psalms, and not much else is known.

But mythmaking, I believe, always has a basis in truth; there was a person so special that her memory could not be erased from her community, even generations following her death. The basis of truth about Cecilia is perhaps that she sang, and she wanted her song to be for Jesus, for God. Oddly, the root of the name implies blindness; this person’s perception was evidently triggered and opened by music to experience the divine.

That is most likely the miracle.

I have folded words from the hymn “Ubi Caritas,” as well as some the words attributed to Cecilia into this meditation (apologies for any over-simplifications of the Latin on my part):

Ubi caritas et amor – where benevolence and love are
Congregavit nos in unum – we are gathered into one
Simul ergo cum in unum congregemus – as we are gathered into one body
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus – beware, lest we be of divided mind
Exultemus – Rejoice
Cantantibus organis – instruments played
Dum aurora finem daret – while dawn was breaking into day
Fiat cor meum immaculatum – let my heart stay pure

Non confundar – not be confounded
Deus ibi est – God is there

Monday, January 15, 2018


Flotillas of birds skim the near distance, observing;
the shore being taken up by throngs of people
with buckets, bags and sticks.

I wonder, do they judge us?
Do they scorn or laugh or jeer?
They’d be within their rights.

Bottle tops, cigarette butts, candy wrappers;
Plastic straws, seven left shoes, a tarp;
Coffee lids, condoms, a mitt for catchers.

Packing peanuts, pills and partitions;
foam that will never break down into loam;
cosmetic jars, wine bottles, crushed can renditions.

We sweep and we swarm,
picking through weeds and thorn,
to get at an old tire, wheel rusted and worn.

The tide moves in, signaling our defeat,
as more bags and bottles drift, from farther out, in,
while all bag what was retrieved and retreat.

The birds take to the cleaner shore,
ready to bask and snooze in the sun;
we leave, wishing we could do more.

This is both a penance and a futility,
even done each day forever, of a utility
useless to blot the sin of our pollution.

Our penance is received, nevertheless;
one wonders if we can heal our world
by means of such feeble efforts;
napping birds make no answer, busy at rest.

© 2018 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Message for the Season: Preach the Gospel of Peace

For more than half my life, this time of year has been accompanied by multiple performances of Handel’s Messiah. I have sung all the different historical versions of this oratorio, both as chorister and as soloist. I have three different editions of the score for this masterwork, and these are the most used scores in my music library.

The libretto for this oratorio was assembled by Charles Jennens, who used snippets of biblical scripture to form a narrative that follows the church year from Advent through Easter. With every year and every single iteration, I discover and hear the piece anew.

This year, four sections of Part II stood out for me, although I would rather have them heard in a different order. In Scene VI of Part II, the bass sings the aria, Why do the nations so furiously rage together? This is followed by the chorus, Let us break their Bonds asunder.

Here are the complete texts for these two sections that comprise Scene VI:

ARIA – Bass

Why do the Nations so furiously rage together? and why do the People imagine a vain Thing? The Kings of the Earth rise up, and the Rulers take Counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed. (Psalm 2:1-2)


Let us break their Bonds asunder, and cast away their Yokes from us. (Psalm 2:3)

This year, I felt as though the two sections from Scene V, immediately previous to Scene VI, should follow these texts.

ARIA – Soprano

How beautiful are the Feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things. (Romans 10:15)


Their sound is gone out into all Lands, and their Words unto the ends of the World. (Romans 10:18)

This year, 2017, has been difficult and painful in so many ways it would take too long to enumerate them all. I know so many who have been personally anguished, injured, suffered financial setbacks and job losses. Friends and family members have died, as well as exemplars and cultural heroes. Our family has experienced all these things; perhaps, so too has yours.

This country has become mired in cynicism and hypocrisy that is being played out in the highest government offices by people who mock the notion of common good; such people actively work against equality, each according to their need. These people are not “public servants” but are rather self-serving.

The Nations of the Earth may engage in this “game of thrones” – but, the planet cannot survive such hubris, much less the inhabitants. We must break the bonds of… what, exactly? Power? Wealth? Narcissism? The bonds are cultural, and not limited to our culture alone; but certainly our culture has driven this venality and actively unraveled our national sense of empathy. Portions of our citizenry have been taught to fear and despise others, and those defined as such are treated as scapegoats for every problem we experience.

We learn about this in grade school, don’t we? About petty bullies mistreating people they have objectified and labeled as inferior. This thing we learned about in grade school is being played out big time in our national life, and is threatening all our international relationships.

What is to be done? What can we do? What can I do, or you?

We can Break their Bonds asunder. Those people do not speak for me or for you. They may cast their edicts, but we know the truth behind their lies. We can and we must act to do the right thing, whenever and however possible, despite the warped edicts of petty despots and bullies.

How do we Break their Bonds asunder? By Preaching the gospel of peace, and sending that message out from our homes and into our neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties and states. What is the gospel of peace, precisely? It is the message that we all belong, that we all have dignity; and we honor this by working toward peace, by spreading good will, and acting toward goals of mutual good with everyone we meet. This is true citizenship.

The Kings of the Earth will fall from grace. Well, to be honest, some of them have never had anything akin to grace, in the first place. We can't let that stop us from working as a positive force for good. We might yet fold the negative into the positive...

My wishes for you on this day, at this hour – and in all the days and hours that follow:
  • Only do to and for others what you would have others do to and for you; accept every gift of grace and good intent. 
  • To break the bonds of oppression asunder, counter negativity and bad actors by doing good and spreading good wherever you are. 
  • Watch for those who need assistance, and offer it however you can; even a smile can change a person’s day.
  • Preach the gospel of peace and harmony; you don’t have to be loud, obnoxious or even religious to make your glad sound go out into all lands.

All of you are beautiful, who spread the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things. I give thanks for the many of you I am fortunate to know and encounter in my life! 

May the light of your peace illumine every place where you step foot, and may 2018 be a year of blessing and positive transformation for you, your families – and your communities.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ship of Fools, a broadside

Landscape irrevocably altered,
Old alliances have faltered;
The looming question each dawn:
“Whose side are you on?”
This winter of austerity
Can only bring prosperity
To the soft white belly
Of the fool on Hill and telly,
Whose sychophant minority consents
To sunset equalities and stir discontents,
Flattening any fanfare for the common man
By rendering opportunity null and ban.
Our constitution, so long ago knit,
Has been unraveled by the unfit,
And these very forces
Plan to upend our courses,
To suck all wind from each sail
Of the leaky boat we citizens bail.
Our anchor has thus been weighed:
Endless calumnies have put paid
To what ruthless and rudderless
Barbary captains do, regardless,
For they reign with impunity
—Our fool grants them immunity.
Time will record, but will it care
That the lawless bent the law bare,
Wreaking lives and ravaging land,
Draining toxic sludge into pristine sand?
With compass and mainsail set athwart,
A new Revolution is our last, best resort.

© 2017 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen