Thursday, October 4, 2007

Saint Francis and Sputnik (Спутник)

Listening to the more thoughtful programmes on radio/tv, several mentioned the upcoming half century anniversary of the inaugural to the cold war, space age rivalry. Since there are few thoughtful christian programmes, I doubt many will hear of Saint Francis of Assisi. Both provoke insight upon our condition.

Sputnik, the grand achievement of Sergej Pavlovič Koroljov. The russians, even with the communist regime, were not incompetent oafs. When effectively their abilities were channeled, they could, and did accomplish. The rooskies were somewhat nonplussed about the event, but after seeing the paranoia in America evoked, they could engage in nonchalant, assured braggadacio, “After all, vee deed eet verst”.

The arrogant and waspish, american elite looked down upon those they relegated as backward, semi-asiatic, slavonic, peasant nations. This, along, with the balance of power gamesmanship put the country into a fit of apoplexy. First Eisenhower, then others, played clumsy public persona appearances of dismissiveness and then comical disasters of attempt (the american sputnik poofed in December of ’57).

It allowed John Kennedy to be more bellicose than mere sanity would permit, and not until Armstrong planted the stars and stripes on lunar soil was the chip loosened from the US shoulder. But, by then Koroljov, the “Chief Designer”, had been dead three years. He was one of many of Stalin’s gulag alumni. His mind intact, his health not; part of the cruel toll of caesarean sovietism, that the west will not appreciate.

Later Jurij Aleksejevič Gagarin, the first spaceman, the cosmonaut would be lauded and honored with a national day on the calendar to solidify russian space prowess. There was a progression: sputnik, Lajka (mutnik), the space chimp and then man.

Saint Francis, Il Poverello, set about to live as Christ had done, a gospel literalist. One can see how different a gospel literalist is from a “bible literalist”. Last night in franciscan monasteries, churches and other homes there was celebrated the Transitus, a prayer service, recollection and perhaps a dramatic re-enactment of the passing from life to everlasting life of our friend.

Today, in many churches, animals are blessed. Animals are our brothers in creation. Francis talked to them of God’s gift of the volume of air for them to exercise the gift of flight. In Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, the Pirate, one of a band of poor men in the story, gathers his dogs about him to expound tales of our friend to the hounds’ delight. One of literature’s poignant christian moments, a homeless man (a bum) sharing mercy with abandoned animals, all enjoying a comitatus of Christ's companionship and fellowship.

We as a society should look at Franky. He went on crusade and spoke to, perhaps, the only famous Kurd in history, Saladin. We did not achieve peace then or now, but some of us try to anyhow and peace within oneself is a good and wonderful accomplishment.

p.s. Today is also the 50th birthday of Michael Maurer of Ohio University.

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