A Glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom
The Wisdom of the Unlearned
These affectionate friends, following their God-given hearts, know better than many humans highly esteemed for vast knowledge. “The folly of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor. 1:25)
--PIcture Contributed by Angie Cordeiro
Editor’s Corner Essay: “I Don’t Allow No Violence Here”
After an early breakfast on February 21, 1984, seventyish Nathan Degrafinreid, who lived with his wife Louise in the countryside near Braden, Tennessee, opened his back door to let out their imaginatively- named feline, “Cat.” Cat crouched on the edge of the porch, arching his bristling back and hissing. “What do you see, Cat?” Nathan asked. He found out when a big man, Black like the Degrafinreids, came around the corner of the house and pointed a shotgun at him. Nathan knew at once that this was one of the five escapees from nearby Fort Pillow Prison that they’d heard about on the radio. His clothes were dirty with mud from the marshy river-bottom near the house; he had a sock tied around his neck. He ordered Nathan back into the house. Nathan, “scared to death,” as he later put it, called to Louise, “Lord, Honey, open the door! Open the door!” Louise, who was talking to her friend Renzie Fields on the phone, guessed something was very wrong; Nathan wasn’t one to raise his voice without a good and urgent reason. She told Renzie to call the police, quickly hung up, and went to throw the door open.
The gunman, Riley Arzeneaux, holding the gun against Nathan’s side, pushed him in; he stood him and Louise against a wall, thrusting the gun at their faces. “Don’t make me kill you!” he shouted. Then “Old man, that truck of yours run? I’m going to want you to give me a ride.” Nathan told him it did, but was hard to start. He’s have to work at it. After a pause, Riley told him to go ahead, but not to try anything funny; he had the gun on his wife. Nathan went outside, moving slowly.
Louise, who by her own admission was never silent long, spoke up, and what she said was not what Riley expected.: “Young man, I am a Christian lady. Put that gun down and you sit down. This is God’s house. I don’t allow no violence here.”
Astonished at finding, instead of a cowering hostage, a queen whose command brushed aside his death-weapon, Riley gazed at her for a long moment. She repeated her order; he relaxed his hold on his weapon, obediently leaned it against the couch, and sat down. Now he became the vulnerable one: “Lady, I’m so hungry. I haven’t had nothing to eat for three days.”
To Louise’s mind, this was a problem easy for love to solve. “You just sit there and I’ll fix you some breakfast.” Seeing that his feet were wet, she supplied him with dry socks; and noticing the sock around his neck, a folk remedy for sore throat, she offered to prepare him a potion for that. She made him breakfast from fixings of the food she and Nathan had just had. And it was a terrible menu: bacon, scrambled eggs, white bread toast, cow’s milk, and coffee. She set out her best napkins, sat down beside Riley, and took his hand in her own. “Young man, let’s give thanks that you came here and that you are safe.” After offering a biblical prayer, she asked him if he wanted to say anything to God. He was silent, so she instructed him “Just say ‘Jesus wept.’” Later she explained to theologian/journalist William Willimon why she chose this passage; it was because “I figured that he didn’t have no church background, so I wanted to start him off simple; something short, you know.” When Willimon asked if she had been frightened when he broke in, she said no, because she knew God was with her, had always cared for her, and had sent the “young man” to her for a purpose.
After his breakfast (Riley drank a whole quart of milk), there was another prayer, Louise again holding his hand, and patting him; he was trembling all over. “Young man, I love you and God loves you. God loves us all, every one of us, especially you. Jesus died for you because he loves you so much.”
“You sound just like my grandmother,” said Riley. Asked where his grandmother was, he replied “She’s dead.” Nathan, who (after bravely disabling the truck) had come back in scarcely noticed by Riley, saw a tear roll down his cheek. During breakfast the police had arrived, and Riley, seeing the squad cars through the window, panicked: “They gonna kill me!”
“No, young man, don’t worry, nobody’s going to hurt you. You done wrong, but God loves you. You let me do all the talking,” said she reassuringly. Since she had shown that she was quite good at doing the talking (fine points of grammar no issue), Riley was very willing to let her. She told him to stay at the table, told Nathan to remain with him, and went to the door by herself. The police got out of their cars, guns drawn, and as she stepped out on the porch, some came running up. But Louise again took command of the situation: “Hold it right there! Y’all put those guns away. I don’t allow no violence here. The young man is here, eating breakfast, but he doesn’t have his gun now. He wants to go back.” The surprised cops, becoming as compliant as Riley had been, holstered their weapons; Nathan escorted Riley, hands behind his head, outside and down the steps, where he was handcuffed and bundled into the car to be returned to Fort Pillow prison.Louise-and-Nathan.jpg
(That same afternoon, two of Riley’s fellow escapees surprised a couple’s barbecue party. The husband emerged from the house with a gun: one of the convicts shot and killed him. His wife was taken hostage, and released the following day.)
The police urged the Degrafinrieds to press charges against Riley for “holding them hostage.” But theirs had not exactly been a typical hostage situation, and they refused. “That boy did us no harm,” Louise said. So charges were dropped, but his sentence was lengthened because of his prison break.
The story does not end here. Louise kept in touch with Riley by correspondence; she asked for his photo, which she put in her family album. He would call her on her birthday, February 12, and at Christmastime. She visited him regularly, each visit, predictably, including a prayer. He recalled later that she would say “God, this is your child. You know me, and I know you.”
This was the kind of empowering relationship Riley wanted to have with God. “After looking back over all my life in solitary, I realized I’d been throwing my life away,” he said in an interview in 1991. “I realized that meeting the Degrafinrieds and other things that happened in my life just couldn’t be coincidences . . . . someone was looking over me.” In 1988 he committed his life to the God of Louise Degrafinried, and of his grandmother, whose love Louise had reawakened in him. As Dante put it in an early poem, referring to a woman whose greeting was equally transformative,
. . . . He feels her power, for her least salutation
Bestows salvation on this favored one,
And humbles him till he forgives all wrongs . . .
Louise actively worked for Riley’s release. He had been serving a twenty-five year sentence for second-degree murder, but probably thanks partly to her help, he was freed in 1995. When she died in 1998 at age eighty-seven, he attended her funeral, sitting with her family in their pew. He gave a eulogy telling of the empowering effect she had had on his life; he was one of the pallbearers taking her coffin to the grave.
Mrs. Degrafinried’s total lack of fear in the face of violent death, stemming from her unshakable conviction that God was with her in all circumstances, and her active love for the person threatening her, are unmistakable signs of a rare spiritual giant. She appears to have been one in perhaps thousands of aspiring mystics and devout persons who enter what the tradition of Neoplatonic-Christian mysticism call the Unitive State. This may be described as the condition in which the person is so profoundly united to God / the Ultimate that self-centeredness and fear esseentially vanish, because the “I” ceases to hold the throne of consciousness. Instead it becomes the willing instrument of love to all by the God-anchored total self.
But Louise probably would not have been comfortable with the term “unitive state;” rather, she might have said that she was “dwelling in Beulah Land.” This biblical term became well-known to generations of Protestants thanks to John Bunyan’s use of it in his 1678 allegorical novel The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which it appears as an Eden-like area the pilgrim enters near the end of his journey, before he crosses the river (death) that borders the Celestial City. Several hymns beloved of evangelical Christians popularized the concept further, one or more of which she and Nathan may have sung in the Mt. Sinai Primitive Baptist Church they attended all their lives. Another reason why “dwelling in Beulah Land” may be a better term for Mrs. Degrafinried’s spiritual condition is that when you are living in a spacious bordered area, you may occasionally take a few steps outside its boundaries without noticing it. In one of her accounts she says that when Riley first came in, she “was a little mad” at the intrusion into her house. But then, almost at once, she was telling him that this was God’s house. So her “I” may have resumed its old throne for a short time, but reigning Love soon took back its central place.
To be in fearless and loving unity with all, to dwell in Beulah Land, is to have returned within to Paradise. Of course the dwellers in the Garden of God “don’t allow no violence here.” But there is of course a problem in our story. Readers of The Peaceable Table will already be aware of something which Mrs. Degrafinried probably had not noticed: that she was allowing the fruits of violence into her house--“God’s house”--and even supporting violence, with every load of groceries. How can we account for her awe-inspiring, Mother-Goddess-like power of love coexisting with so major a gap in her awareness and praxis? Surely those who are so deeply committed to divine love as she was must be consistent?
In fact, this kind of gap in the mind of a saintly person is nothing new. However filled with love and God a soul may be, she or he remains a member of her culture, and likely to participate in its blind spots and even its evils. For example, Catherine of Siena, a fourteenth-century saint venerated even in her lifetime for her intense piety, austerities, and visions, was very distressed about the division in the church; she urged warring members to overcome their conflicts by joining forces in a crusade! In 1146, influential mystic Bernard of Clairveaux had also preached a crusade. It’s hard for people of faith today to imagine that Catherine, at least, didn’t know better--Francis of Assisi had traveled to Egypt in 1219 to converse with Sultan al-Kamil in an attempt to stop a crusade--but she was probably convinced that God willed the war, and was guiding her. As we know all too well, cultural evils grip a whole society, not beginning to loosen their hold until prophetic voices denouncing them are heard and heeded by a substantial number of the members. So Louise, great soul though she was, could have learned something important from us, and I believe she would have listened and “taken the adventure.”
But only considerable blindness on our part would allow us to think we had nothing to learn from her. For example, it is easy for middle- or upper-middle class people, especially those who have had the advantage of higher education, to feel superior to working-class people whose education has been limited, and whose grammar may reflect that fact. Issues of class and race overlap here; born in 1911, an African-American growing up in the South when slavery was still a living memory, under the reign of Jim Crow, lynch law and the Ku Klux Klan, Louise would have learned a great many things about life controlled by privileged white people, some of which the white folk would never have known, either about Blacks or about themselves. (Things had improved somewhat by the 1980s, but not as much as many have thought.) What experiences did she have under conditions when it was dangerous for Black persons even to look white people squarely in the eye or refuse to step off the sidewalk for them, that enabled her to realize the divine Love that casts out fear? How did she gain the strength to order a circle of (probably) white policemen to put down their guns?
Feelings of superiority may flourish in us also in regard to the varieties of religious expression; there are folk, not a few, who would feel quietly (or vocally) contemptuous about Louise’s membership in a Primitive Baptist church. I wouldn’t have to go far to find evidence for this attitude; discreetly proud of a Ph.D. in the philosophy of religion, I had a similar prejudice myself against Southern Baptists generally. It took some time spent living in the South (with a spouse who likes to visit new churches) to disabuse me of it, and having a Southern Baptist marry into my family helped a lot, too. (That change is perhaps my own baby-step in Mrs. Degrafinried’s footprints!)
Undoubtedly we animal activists and supporters could have learned a university’s-worth of knowledge and insight from Louise Degrafinried. Knowledge is important, and often empowering. But how do we gain that deeper power to actually live our central convictions under threat, as she did? We can’t just tell ourselves to be fearless and love our enemies, including the one holding a gun on us at the moment, and voila! we are there with her in Beulah Land. All we can do is to try our best to enact Love, even when we are horrified, or enraged, or fed up, or shaking in our shoes.
Louise had already done the hard work of facing all her fear and giving it to God. For the majority of us who are far behind her, courage to enact love in spite of fear, like Nathan’s support of his wife’s initiative, is even harder than fearless action. But happily, like a muscle, such courage gains strength with use.
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Sources: Louise Degrafinried with Jeffrey Japings, “The Woman Who Wasn’t Afraid,” Guideposts, Oct. 1984
Jim Forest, Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2014
William H. Willimon, “Bless You, Mrs. Degrafinried,” The Christian Century, Mar. 14, 1984
“Woman, 73, Gets Armed Fugitive to Give Up by “Giving Him Bible,” NY Times, Feb. 22, 1984
“The Dwarf . . . looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer. . . .”
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Pictured: Cate Blanchett as the Elven Lady Galadriel
“Perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4:18
“If your enemy is hungry, feed [her]; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”--Romans 12:21-22
Dear Peaceable Friends,
The latest issue of the Peaceable Table came as a lovely surprise, I was not aware that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was acknowledged in the English speaking world. In Germany we students of theology were treated with his books and essays constantly, since he was a member of the opposition against Hitler, until we got ever so tired of it…. But now it was greatly interesting to read your interpretation of some of his thoughts I know by heart. I do not think he would have agreed to be regarded as a champion for the animals or for a vegan diet, but what he thought and wrote could be absolutely interpreted like this. You have written a very good piece about him which should get a wider appreciation. ChristaLamb.jpg
--Christa Blanke (pictured with lamb), a Lutheran clergyperson, is the founder of Animals’ Angels, a group of brave German activists who follow death trucks to the slaughterhells; when the trucks stop, they reach through openings in the trucks to offer food and water, and give the animals names, prayers, and love. The group also lobbies for laws limiting the horrors of transport, and monitors their observance. See Angels
Bison Marked for Death
At the behest of the cattle industry, US government agencies plan to kill or capture and sell to slaughterhells about 900 Yellowstone Park bison, who regularly migrate into Montana. This after enormous and finally successful effort decades ago to save the Yellowstone bison from extinction. More hamburgers or buffalo-burgers, anybody? See Bison
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
Israel to Install Cameras in Slaughterhells
Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture has ordered cameras installed in all slaughterhells; they will run 24/7 and be monitored by veterinarians. Animal defense groups are calling for access to the films. We in the US cannot help but think of the contrast to the ag-gag laws in several of our states that criminalize such actions. Let’s hope that the films are widely disseminated, and lead to the hellholes actually being shut down.
--Contributed by Benjamin Urrutia
Hog Farmers Worrying a Bit, Maybe?
The group behind the National Hog Farmers’ blog seems to worry enough about the newly opened Vegan Butcher Shop in Minneapolis that they published an unintentionally hilarious article gravely condemning it. The author says that calling a butcher shop “vegan” is unethical, and that “Livestock producers do not take the animals they raise for granted and treat them with the up most respect by passionately caring for them everyday”[!] See Up Most Respect
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
Using Humor for the Animals
Friend Margaret Fisher has written a skit that can get past anti-veg viewers’ defenses under the cover of laughter. Here is the URL: https://youtu.be/ufEZUTiVIps /
Deviled Potato SnacksDevilledPotatoBites.jpeg
10 - 15 small yellow (“white”) potatoes
1 - 9 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. tahini
2 Tbsp. water (add more if needed for a creamier texture)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Cut 10-15 small yellow potatoes in half, and place face-up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, and brush with a little cooking oil. Bake at 400˚F/200˚C for 40 minutes, or until soft. Scoop out a small section of each potato to create a bowl. (You can add these to the filling, or simply snack on them now.)
In a food processor, combine all remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly. Add more water as needed until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Spoon mixture into a piping bag, and fill the potato cups. A ridged tip on the bag makes for a beautiful textured effect. Sprinkle with paprika or seasoning salt and chives. Enjoy!
--from Tasty Meals, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o76DAhrYHs
Book Review: The Soul of All Living Creatures by Vint Virga
Vint Virga, D.V.M. The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Broadway Books, 2013. 240 pp, $25.00.
Vint Virga, D.V.M., author of The Soul of All Living Creatures, tells us in his introduction to this illuminating book that he is a passionate lover of people and animals. In the many years that he practiced, with care, veterinary behavioral medicine he learned to appreciate the physical, emotional, and spiritual traits shared by humans and all different species of animals from leopards and whales to cats, dogs and wolves. If we humans could simply observe and listen to animals, Virga thinks we would be better able to understand our unclear relationships with one another and the mysteries still unconsciously embedded in our perspectives and ways of being.AllLivingCreatures.jpeg
The first chapter of the book, “Connection” opens with a laudatory description of Grotte Chauvet, a thirty thousand year old French “ vast primordial under- ground cavern that shelters some of man’s earliest art.” Virga is impressed by the ancient artists’s estimation of animals. He writes:
Aside from the prey then most hunted by humans (reindeer, horses, ibex, and bison) the walls feature many more dangerous species—lions, rhinos, cave bears, and panthers, among other predators that once roamed outside. Yet what stands out clearly and perhaps, is most telling of what brought these artists inside Chauvet, is that the paintings do not depict a fear of these creature, but instead celebrate their vitality.”
Into the present, humans continue to be beguiled by and to cherish the animal kingdom. “Nearly two out of every three American families currently share their homes with pets.” According to Virga , “Based on the findings of a recent survey, should fate leave us for the rest of our days on an island living with one single companion, most of us would chose a dog or cat above a human (stranger, family, or even best friend). An animal brings great comfort, listens better and understands human emotions more than our fellow human beings.” The true acceptance we find in an animal’s presence astounds and delights this author. He loves them for their sensitivity, integrity, presence, and forgiveness. “They reach into our very hearts to touch us in ways we don’t understand, stirring us to heights of joy as well as heartrending depths of sorrow,” he says.
Virga, the behavioralist, is also fascinated by the dysfunctional behaviors animal reveal. Out of the blue they can become depressed, hostile, unpredictable, reclusive, or wildly destructive at home, in zoos and in other public places. They pace, rock, chase hypothetical flies, pluck their own hair, drink water insatiably or bark for hours. Throughout his book he tells engrossing stories, based mainly on his own medical practice which explore radical changes in animal actions and personalities. Virga analyses and speculates on possible simple or complex causes and cures of animal dysfunction. He draws parallels with similar human functioning like constant “handwashing, counting footsteps or avoiding cracks in the sidewalk.” One interesting example is Virga’s description of the wolfhound Douglas who relentlessly chased insects in the house. However these insects did not exist. In reality, the dog was obsessed by rays of sunlight and reflections from watches, earrings, eyeglasses and keys. Eventually the dog sat at the window and endlessly watched the headlights of cars.
Animals share positive neurological patterns with humans. For the author brain research has confirmed that “animals clearly perceive with awareness, think with reflection and act with intention. As we do, they routinely take in their circumstances, as well as those of others, weigh their options, and consider consequences….Doing so requires attentiveness, forethought, and consideration—all traits shared by humans as well as animals.”
In the powerful concluding chapter of this original and thoughtfully written book Virga states his most important point of view. “I believe our sense of kinship with animals comes from our souls connecting with theirs.” For Virga the soul is our essential nature. It is the immaterial part of human beings and animals. It is the spirit that is immortal and survives our death. He is certain that animals serve as our spiritual teachers “opening doors to new perspectives.” They teach us holy things, “for animals offer us ways of being that we cannot find simply by ourselves.”
--Norma Fain Pratt, Ph.D., Huntington Library Scholar
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Book Review: Do Unto Animals by Tracey Stewart
Tracey Stewart. Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better. New York: Workman, 2015. 199 pages, paperback. $19.95.
The statement that part of the proceeds of this book will be donated to Farm Sanctuary is one good reason to buy it; so is the beautiful artwork by Lisel Ashlock. Perhaps the main reason is that it provides plenty of information about animals, both our companions and those living in the wild. Some of it many readers of PT will already know; but this is unlikely to be a problem, since, like the Hobbits, we often like to read things “laid out fair and square” that we already know. But there is also much for readers to learn.
The first section is about the Companions, and of these the first is the friendly dog. I learned here that their kisses are good for the health of our skin. This does not surprise me at all, and it pleases very much. Important and useful information follows about doggy body language, how to massage a dog, how to make dog toys, and recipes for dog treats.
After the dogs, Ms. Stewart gives us a lot of useful knowledge about cats, although she herself is allergic to kitties. (For that particular problem, I personally recommend a health blessing from a spiritual faith healer. Before I got one, I could not be in the same room with a cat without sneezing. Afterwards, I slept for years with my friend Kitty Nitro Qudsy on my pillow, right next to my face, with nary a ker-choo.)
She introduces the reader to "cat grass and cat mint;” she provides practical information on how to grow cat grass (page 52) and how to build cat toys. She defends black cats and pit bulls against prejudicial misconceptions about these good creatures. In regard to adoption, she gives good reasons to adopt older companion animals, and informs readers about Virtual Adoption.
There is also a brief chapter on the "other,’ i.e., non-feline- or canine-companions.
From page 78 to 136, good information on "Backyard Wildlife,” a chapter that reminded me of happy moments I spent in the company of my bunny and squirrel neighbors. But of all the Backyard Helpers, the most helpful to humans are the lowly and humble earthworms. From Stewart's book one learns a
Tracey Stewart and Porcine Friend fascinating fact: earthworms are vegans. That gives us
human vegans an additional reason to cherish them. And everybody else gets a helpful gardening hint: do not include any animal products in the compost pile. At the very least, this will make your garden smell better. (So much for those who defend animal husbandry with the “necessary for fertilizer” argument.)
Stewart does not just provide with interesting zoological facts about earthworms, she gives us instructions on how to build and maintain a Worm Bin. She also instructs us on how to construct a Frog Sanctuary, and a hive for a solitary bee. I was astounded to learn there are so many bees who live non-collective lives; I had thought they all are gathered into monarchical soviets. Many readers will probably share my experience of finding out how ignorant they are of how ignorant they are!
Stewart also provides useful advice on "How to help an injured animal" (pages 132-133) and "How to interact with a cow." I would add one bit of advice of mine own: Pet her on the throat rather than the top of the head.
A valuable book, whether one is a conventional hobbit-type who likes books (mostly) filled with things s/he already knows, or the rarer type who likes to go off into the Blue and have adventures.
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Poetry: Dante Alighieri, 1265 - 1321
Faith L. Bowman, 1938-
“Ladies, Refined and Sensitive in Love . . .”Dante03.jpg
The mind of God receives an angel’s prayer
That says, “My Lord, on earth is seen
A living miracle proceeding from
A soul whose light reaches as far as here . . . .
My lady is desired in highest heaven;
And now I want to tell you of her power.
A lady who aspires to Graciousness
Should seek her company, for where she walks
Love drives a killing frost into vile wills,
That freezes and destroys their every thought;
And should a thought remain to dwell with her,
It has to change to good or else must die.
And if she find one worthy to behold her
He feels her power, for her least salutation
Bestows salvation on this favored one,
And humbles him till he forgives all wrongs . . .
--D. A., from La Vita Nuova
Long years I kept behind my castle wall,
My ramparts guarded warily withal.
Those Others, who conspired toward my fall
Would find my moat was deep, my towers tall.
My walls were stout and arrow-slits were small.
The air was dim and stifling in my hall,
No step, no voice, no song or cup at all
And only echoes echoing to my call,
But I was my own lord, and not a thrall.
Then She broke through!
Fair as the moon, ablaze like the noonday sun,
Terrifying, a many-bannered host.
By tender violence I was unmade.
My crossbow clattered down from nerveless hands;
Rafts swarmed my moat, my tall portcullis split;
With roars and billowing dust my walls were breached.
A mightier than I became my Liege.
EllisFloweringCrab2.jpegShe ground my fort to dust and digged anew.
My fetid moat, back in its ancient bed,
Streams sparkling life; spring flowers of every hue
Be-gem its soft-grassed banks; and in the stead
Of my stout keep, a Tree, whose windy breadth
Of worldspread branches shelters bird and beast;
Whose apple blossoms promise death to death,
And in whose light we neighbors lay a feast.
--F. L. B.
Photo of apple tree from