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General News    H4'ed 10/12/20

Like a Leaf Floating in a Stream

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Neil Young - Per Ole Hagen.
Neil Young - Per Ole Hagen.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Per Ole Hagen)
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 12, 2020: From Neil Young's 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream (Penguin Group), I gather that as part of his hippie dream life he imagined that he and his musical bands were waging heavy peace as they rolled off their musical tracks. But then they skipped the rails, figuratively speaking, and started to fail. Oh my. Oh my. But think of how close they came to waging heavy peace in their hippie dream life.

Now he feels like a leaf floating in a stream, he sings in his 2012 song "Walk Like a Giant." But he used to walk like a giant on the land -- when he imagined that he was waging heavy peace in his hippie dream life. And so he keeps singing, over and over, "I wanna walk like a giant on the land."

Apart from whatever autobiographical events that Neil Young (born in 1945) may be referring to, his oft-repeated refrain "I wanna walk like a giant" also happens to capture that longing many Americans today now have to return to the normal world before the Covid-19 pandemic. In terms of Neil Young's lyrics, we skipped the rails when Covid-19 emerged and we started to fail - falling sick with Covid-19 and many dying from it - more than 200,000 Americans and more than one millions persons worldwide, thus far - and the pandemic is not over yet. Consequently, we now feel like a leaf floating in a stream - but we wanna walk like giants on the land, as we did in the pre-pandemic world.

Now, before the Covid-19 pandemic emerged earlier in 2020, Pope Francis (born in 1936) walked like a giant on the world stage as he crooned his tunes of praise and blame - in his renditions of the oral tradition of praise poetry - and captured headlines. However, as he was preparing his new social encyclical, the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in Italy and elsewhere around the world. So he skillfully interweaves references to it in his new 43,000-word social encyclical. Because I have likened the pope's earlier tunes of praise and blame to the oral tradition of praise poetry, perhaps I should liken his lengthy new social encyclical to an oral epic.

Pope Francis has had enough of our walking like giants on the land. Consequently, he does not want us to return to the pre-pandemic world. Rather, he wishes to see a better world somehow emerge from the covid-19 pandemic.

As everybody knows, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit people, took the name Francis to honor the medieval Italian troubadour hippie of his day St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) - a cultural ancestor of Neil Young. Among other things, St. Francis is known for his song/poem "Canticle of Brother Sun."

The French Franciscan priest Eloi Leclerc (1921-2016), who is quoted by Pope Francis (paragraph 4; also see note 4), has published a perceptive discussion of St. Francis' "Canticle of Brother Sun" in the book The Canticle of Creatures: Symbols of Union: An analysis of St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Matthew J. O'Connell (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977; orig. French ed., 1970).

Just as Pope Francis wrote his 2015 eco-encyclical in honor of St. Francis, so too Pope Francis also writes his new social encyclical in honor of St. Francis - specifically, in honor of St. Francis' visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil in Egypt in 1219 at the time of the Crusades (paragraphs 1-4). To paraphrase Neil Young's title, St. Francis the hippie was waging heavy peace with the Sultan - but to little avail, unfortunately.

But the more proximate prompt for Pope Francis' new social encyclical was his meeting with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi in early February 2019 (paragraphs 5, 29, 136, 192, and 285). The joint document the two of them issued on that occasion emphasized the dignity of the human person - which was also emphasized in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.

After eight numbered introductory paragraphs, Pope Francis' new social encyclical unfolds in the following eight chapters:

Chapter One: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World (paragraphs 9-55);

Chapter Two: A Stranger on the Road (paragraphs 56-86);

Chapter Three: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World (paragraphs 87-127);

Chapter Four: A Heart Open to the Whole World (paragraphs 128-153);

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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