Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Reflections on an Inauguration


Thoughts for an Inauguration

By M. Frances Erler


Every four years, we swear a president into office.  About half the time, it’s a new one, not the one who served the previous term.  People tend to talk about how our system of democracy works, as each transition passes.

          I’m not going to comment on this year’s transition, though.  My thoughts are being drawn to an inauguration that took place 60 years ago.  Can it really be that long?

    Recently, I came across an old paperback of Robert Frost’s poems and noticed in the back of the book, the poem Frost wrote for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in January 1961.

          I was eight years old, and in third grade then.  I remember that our teacher brought a black-and-white TV to school, so we could watch it.  Technology was not a classroom fixture back then.  In my mind’s eye I can see the gray-headed Frost reading his poem in the snow and cold wind.  Then the wind blew his papers out of his hand.  But he continued from memory.

Too young to have understood any of the poem back then, I was fascinated to read it with my adult eyes this past week.  In one place he says:

“There was the book of profile tales declaring

For the emboldened politicians daring

To break with followers when in the wrong,

A healthy independence of the throng,

A democratic form of right divine

To rule first answerable to high design.”


Years later I read Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, and now I understand what Frost was saying—that we as citizens and politicians in a democracy need to remember we are still answerable to a higher power, a moral compass, if you will.  Our personal needs are not the measure of all things.  There is a greater good.  Frost concludes his poem with these words:


“Firm in our beliefs without dismay,

In any game the nations want to play.

A golden age of poetry and power

Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.”


Yes, many had high hopes for the presidency of JFK, a new era, maybe even a “golden age” as Frost intoned.  But Robert Frost died in the winter of 1963,  and JFK was assassinated the following November.   Now I think I envy Frost because he didn’t have to live to see the dream die.

In one of those ironies of life, an eleven-year-old paperboy from Gary, Indiana was at that 1961 inauguration.  He and several others had won the trip by selling subscriptions to the Gary Post-Tribune.  That boy would become my husband a mere fourteen years later.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Her Name Was Linnie


When I was about seven or eight, my parents hired an African American maid to watch us kids after school when Mom had bridge club.  She also did the ironing while she was at our house.  I remember her running the hot iron over a Colonial Bread wrapper, to get the wax melted on it.  This made it really smooth out the wrinkles in the clothes, I guess.

          My brother was three years younger than me, so he doesn’t remember her.  She was to my childhood eyes an older woman, with maybe a little gray in her hair.  Soft-spoken, but I could tell she was a loving person  If we wanted to talk, she listened.  I don’t think she tended to start the conversation, though.

          Both of my grandmothers lived in other towns, so for those years, Linnie became a surrogate grandma for me.  I never felt uncomfortable around her, like I did with my ‘real’ grandmas sometimes.  I guess I didn’t see them enough to know then well.  

          One evening, Linnie stayed late and made supper for us.  I’m wondering if it was the night my youngest brother was born.  She warmed a can of cream of chicken soup, using water to dilute it.  Mom always used milk, so I thought it would taste strange.  But it was fine.  Every time I make a can of condensed soup with water now, I think of Linnie.

          I don’t know for sure who brought Linnie to our house.  Maybe Mom went to pick her up while I was a school.  It’s odd the things you don’t notice when you’re a child.  She was just there when I got home, and then she went home somehow when her work day was over.

          Once, though, she needed Mom to drive her home, so we children went along.  This was the only time I saw where Linnie lived.  It was in a shabby part of El Dorado, Arkansas, with only dirt streets, and little rundown wooden houses.  It looked rather sad.

          After we’d dropped Linnie off at her house, I remember asking Mom: “Why do the colored people live in such poor places?”  (The N-word was forbidden in my family, even then in the 1950s.)

          “It’s not their fault, Frances,” she said quietly.  “People who are poorer than we are in things are still just as good as people.  Always remember that.”

          I can still picture this entire scene, even though it took place at least 60 years ago.  The words my mother said took on more and more meaning for me as the years went by.  She went out of her way to make sure we didn’t look down on any of the poorer people who lived in our town.  I never knew, until many years later that her childhood had been lived in poverty, too.  Out of it she forged an understanding of all people less fortunate, and compassion for them.  It’s one of the best legacies she left me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

December 23 - Emmanuel, God With Us - We're Still Waiting

 We've come to the end of the Great O Antiphons, and the Medieval countdown to Christmas.  It means even more to me now that I've learned how all of December, up until Christmas Eve, was considered a time of fasting and repenting, no meat, eggs or dairy allowed for the whole 3 1/2 weeks leading up to Christmas.  No wonder they celebrated the holiday for Twelve Days, when it finally came!

In some ways, it's like the old observance of Lent used to be.  A time of waiting, hoping, fasting and practicing patience.  I know I definitely need more practice with patience!  It is also a reminder of our anticipation, as we await the coming of Christ, when He was born as a human being here on this very earth.  In my church, they also remind us to anticipate His Second Coming as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. 

The antiphon for this day reads:

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord,
The anointed of the nations and their Savior;
    Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Even though this is the last of the seven ancient verses set to music, it has become the first verse of our hymn,  O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
    Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I like this arrangement, for it's like a set of bookends.  The beginning of the hymn reminds us that Jesus, called Emmanuel (which in Hebrew means 'God with us') is come to be our Savior from darkness and loneliness.  That seems especially meaningful in this year of crises and pandemic.  And the hymn ends with the words, "And be Thyself our King of Peace."

Wishing you all the peace that passes understanding.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

O Come Desire of Nations

 December 22 marks the first full day of winter here, and we got snow--the most we've had since early October.  Strange year!  The election, Covid--so much suffering, strife, anger, and hurt.  No one seems to trust anyone.  We need the King of Kings more than ever before.  Here is the antiphon for today:

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for,
the cornerstone uniting all people:
    Come and save us ALL, whom You formed out of clay.

And the verse:

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid thou our sad divisions cease,
And be thyself our King of Peace:
    Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Monday, December 21, 2020

O Come, O Light of Heaven!

 December 21st is shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe, where many of the Medieval Church customs were born.  I find it most significant that the Pre-Christmas antiphon for this date refers to the coming of Christ as the dawning of light, the Dayspring.

People in the Middle Ages, in the darkest time of year, were longing for the light and hope of spring as much as we often do here in the northern reaches of North America.  Here is the 12th century antiphon, translated from Latin into English:

O Dayspring, splendor of light ever-lasting:
     Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Here is the verse of the hymn adapted from these ancient antiphons, written by James M. Neale in the 1800s:

O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh:
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
    Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

O Key of David - December 20

 The Great O Antiphons originated in the 12th century, and have evolved into our beloved Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   There is one for each of the seven days preceding Christmas Eve.  

The one for today (which has been translated from the original Latin) goes like this:

O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel,
You open and no one can close,
You close and no one can open:
    Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

What we could not ever accomplish for ourselves--the task of being truly good and sinless--Christ did for us.  Beginning when he came to earth as a tiny helpless baby, born in a stable of a poor young mother of God's own choosing.

And here's the more "modern" rendering in the hymn:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

O Come Thou Branch of Jesse's Tree

 "Who was Jesse?" you may ask.  He was a member of the house of Judah in the nation of Israel.  He had several sons, and the youngest--David--was chosen by God to be King of all Israel.  Some thousand years later, Jesus was born of Mary, one of David descendants.  Joseph, Jesus's earthly father, was also a descendant of David. 

Here is the Medieval antiphon written about him and used for December 19:

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples,
Before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage:
 Come quickly to deliver us.

And the verse by John Mason Neale:

O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree,
Free them from Satan's tyranny
That trust thy mighty power to save,
And give them victory o'er the grave:
 Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.