Century Marks

Century Marks

Meditate on this

Meditation doesn’t have the psychological or medical benefits it is widely believed to have, according to a study released by JAMA Internal Medicine. The study made a distinction between mindfulness meditation and mantra meditation (like Transcendental Meditation). Mindfulness meditation has some positive benefits in relieving stress, anxiety, depression and pain; mantra meditation doesn’t. Neither type can claim other benefits such as curbing substance abuse, poor eating habits, sleep disorders and weight problems (Wall Street Journal, January 6).

World lit

In 2012 Ann Morgan, a London freelance writer, set the goal of reading one book from each country in the world during that year. To cover 197 countries Morgan had to read four books a week. When she could find no books in translation from São Tomé, a small Portuguese-speaking island off Africa, volunteer translators came to the rescue in response to pleas via Facebook and Twitter. Her favorites from that year of reading: Galsan Tschinag, The Blue Sky (Mongolia); Jamil Ahmad, The Wander­ing Falcon (Pakistan); Tete-Michel Kpo­massie, An African in Greenland (Togo); and Nu Nu Yi, Smile as They Bow (Myan­mar) (Atlantic, December 24).

Street smarts

Chris Murphy, junior senator from Connecticut, spent a day shadowing a homeless man on the streets of New Haven. “Fred” is a former advertising salesperson who made some bad choices, developed an addiction, lost his job and ended up on the streets. Murphy doesn’t have particular legislation in mind, but he wanted to see what homelessness is like so as to better understand what government can do to help. What struck him was Fred’s determination to work at taking responsibility and the amount of hope he sensed among the homeless that “there is still a better day coming” (New Haven Independent, December 31).

Bach burned out?

A recently discovered letter by a former student of J. S. Bach has pundits in Germany suggesting that Bach may have been burned out as a musician in his later years. In the letter the student, applying for a cantor position in his home church, claims that he had led musical performances at the Leipzig churches where Bach was conductor. The years coincided with Bach’s final two years of life, suggesting that he used a student as his substitute. Some analysts warn against making such a judgment centuries after Bach’s death. He had poor eyesight, which could explain his delegating the conducting to a student. We do know that Bach composed very little church music in his last decade (Deutsche Welle, December 27).

Faith on the line

The number of Christians killed for their faith around the world doubled in 2013 compared to the year before. Most of those killed were Syrian Christians who have been targeted by radical Islamist groups for their purported support of President Assad. Nine of the ten countries listed as most dangerous for Christians are Muslim-majority states. Christians face restrictions or hostility in 111 countries, while Muslims experience similar kinds of harassment in 90 countries. The information was reported by Open Doors, a nondenominational group supporting persecuted Christians around the world. Open Doors put the number of Christians killed for their faith in 2013 at 2,123; some other Christian organizations report that the number is as high as 8,000 (Reuters).