Classical Considerations: Musings prompted by the late Harvard Master John H. Finley, Jr. is available as a Soul*Sparks book available via this link on amazon.com
Census trends show that we are steadily changing to a world populated – at least for a brief cycle of history – with many millions more people who are older. Rather than seeing this as a set of problems, as some are wont to do, we might well recognize that this also represents a potential blessing of the elders.
One can become old simply by surviving the passage of years. But an elder is someone who has earned authority and respect by virtue of advanced age, experience, integrity, and understanding. As history shows, for their families and for societies, elders can be, and frequently have been, profoundly steadying and enriching influences.
Not everyone who becomes old also becomes an elder. But some do, and many more could. In our era of raucous cultural transition, the world could benefit enormously from such a development. Young people who may feel confused about or disappointed in the world and their place in it, could especially benefit.
True elders are people who have gracefully accepted the passage of time, integrated their life experience with understanding, and made the fruit of their long experience available to others. But how does one do this? How does one become a true elder?
That question has long engaged my interest. Out of my inquiry into the subject came one of my Soul*Sparks gift books, Teach Us to Number Our Days: Keys for Adept Aging. It’s a concise compilation of insights that a great number of experienced elders have shared from antiquity on up to the present. My hope has always been that this little gift book would be a welcome and helpful companion for elders, as well as for people who are becoming elders – a category that includes all of us.
Areté is a Greek term that describes moral virtue. It’s used to denote excellence in any field of endeavor, the fulfillment of a person’s potential. So it was for the late John H. Finely, Jr. So it is in Classical Considerations, one of the slender volumes in my Soul*Sparks series of small treasures.
Life’s foundational questions come elegantly to the fore in Classical Considerations, a nonfiction mini biography of Finley. For 51 years he was the celebrated and erudite Eliot Professor of the Classics at Harvard.
Luminous and compellingly relevant, his story leads readers directly into engagement with the fundamental wisdom questions of a worthwhile life.
Classical Considerations offers a compact but lyrical array of intellectual sparks to kindle a warming and illuminating fire in every reader’s soul.
I acknowledge All, and for all I offer thanks, respect, love. All includes you, of course, so don’t think twice. Beyond that, I’m moved in particular this year to remember Manitonquat, and to Send a Voice thanking him for sharing many eloquent teachings about gratitude.
For over 20 years in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, I lived near Manitonquat and his radiant-heart partner Ellika Linden. As neighbors we also found it altogether natural to become friends. More widely, Manitonquat and Ellika created a network of friends that circled the globe.
In earlier days Manitonquat had a chance to collaborate with the brilliant minds of the people researching, writing, and publishing Akwesasne Notes, a powerful native voice arising from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Six Nations). That newspaper brought dynamic, noble thought and expression to the historic re-emergence of native spirit taking place all over North and South America. Through his relationships in those times and through his opportunities to learn, Manitonquat’s understanding deepened. He combined the knowings he was gathering, along with his classical education, and his natural gift as an orator, to travel the world as a master storyteller and council leader.
When I interviewed him formally one time back in the late 1980s, Manitonquat spoke of natural law. His words are already woven into the manuscript of my forthcoming book: Deep Agroecology: Farms and Food at a Cultural Crossroads (2019). Here’s a fragment of what he said that day:
“Native people refer to the Original Instructions often in speech and prayer, but rarely attempt to say exactly what they are. They are not like the Ten Commandments carved in stone. They are not ideas. They are reality. They are natural law. They are the way thing are–the operational manual for a working creation–and they cannot be totally understood in words. They must be experienced. The Original Instructions are not imposed by human minds on the world. They are of the living spirit. Other creatures follow them instinctively, and they are communicated to humankind through the heart, through feelings of beauty and love.”
“The Original Instructions urge us to find our place in the cosmos, to know our true nature and our goal in existence. There must be a response–not an intellectual answer–but a felt understanding of the nature of this existence, of its purpose and of our part in that purpose. That is the reason for the spiritual quests, the religions, the rituals, the searches, pilgrimages, meditations, and all the mystic disciplines of humankind. Something in our consciousness is just not satisfied with only eating, sleeping, creating, and reproducing. Something in us wants to know what it’s all about and how we fit into it.”
N.B. Here is a link to the author page on Amazon.com for Manitonquat (Medicine Story), who was a gifted and prolific author of books for adults and also books for children
Through the centuries many perceptive elders have expressed their understandings about aging, and about the parallel ennobling quest for wisdom and understanding. With appreciation for this reservoir of knowledge, I assembled this slender compilation of thoughts, feelings, and insights from wisdom leaders around the world. The book is smooth, deep, straightforward, and readily serves as a basis for contemplation and enrichment. I feel that Teach Us to Number Our Days is a small treasure, a meaningful gift for elders, as well as for family and friends who are advancing in age.
As Lesley Jones wrote in Readers’ Favorite: “This book is a real soul-searching piece of writing. I loved the concept and this would make a fantastic gift to any older family members.”
“Absorbing, engaging, thoughtful, thought-provoking, exceptionally well written, and thoroughly ‘reader friendly’ in organization and presentation, Tales of the Whirling Rainbow: Myths & Mysteries for Our Times is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library collections.”
The other day while looking online at a model of our human DNA genetic code I had an insight that I felt was worth noting. As a consequence I added some new sentences to my nonfiction book, Tales of the Whirling Rainbow: Myths & Mysteries for Our Times.
I wrote, “The natural and the mythic image of the whirling rainbow conveys growing awareness of the reality that now in world history with sophisticated communications and transportation systems, different cultures (colors of the rainbow) are whirling (interacting).
“Likewise, as many millions of people have their DNA tested out of genealogical curiosity, we are discovering the fundamental reality of how complex and multifaceted are the whirling double-helix strands of genes that give evidence of each person’s multicultural lineage. These DNA molecules embody the inherited instructions that an organism – such as a human being – needs to develop, live and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.
In virtually all realms of nature, abundant interaction and diversity are characteristic of health and vitality.
While I was adding that passage to the manuscript, I also had the pages of this small treasure formatted professionally, for a better look in both print and eBook editions.
I’m pleased to announce that Classical Considerations is now available in a print edition. Life’s foundational questions come elegantly to the fore in this skillfully crafted nonfiction story about the late John H. Finley, Jr.
For 51 years Finley was the celebrated and erudite Eliot Professor of the Classics at Harvard. His musings transport readers on a soul-engaging journey of contemplation. Luminous and compellingly relevant, his story leads readers into direct engagement with the fundamental wisdom questions of a fulfilled life.
Classical Considerations is a small treasure, offering a compact but brilliantly lyrical array of intellectual sparks to help kindle enduring knowledge.