Century Marks

Century Marks

Divine spark

The word asylum means shelter or protection from danger. One of the first asylums was called the Retreat, and it was established by Quakers in 1796 in York, England. The Quakers, seeing a divine spark in everyone, tried to remove the stigma then attached to the mentally ill. The Retreat emphasized friendship with the insane and incorporated exercise therapy, pet therapy and occupational therapy. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers opened a similar facility in 1817, inspiring similar ventures in the next few years in Boston, New York, Hartford and Charleston (American Scholar, Spring).


Ken Bennett, Arizona’s secretary of state, threatened to keep President Obama off the ballot this fall unless it was proved that Obama’s birth certificate is not a fraud. In response, an online petition was begun, garnering 18,000 signatures, requesting that Bennett certify that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, is not a unicorn. Bennett called the probe ridiculous, but he also withdrew his threat to take Obama off the ballot. In March, a California group filed a suit that would require all presidential candidates to certify their citizenship. In addition to raising the usual—and long since disproved—claim that Obama was not born in the U.S., the suit raised questions about Romney’s birth certificate, since his father had spent some time
as a child in Mexico (Washington Post, May 29).

Snake handler

Mark Randall Wolford, a snake-handling preacher from West Virginia, died last month from a rattlesnake bite during a religious meeting. As a boy Wolford had watched his own father, also a snake-handling preacher, die an agonizing death from a snakebite. Snake handling by Pente­costal preachers began in an east Ten­nessee church in 1909. The practice is based on Mark 16, which promises that followers of Jesus will be able to handle snakes and drink “any deadly thing” without being harmed (MSNBC News, May 30).

Watch and pray

Prayer is the ground of Christian faith and a test of theology, says Jürgen Moltmann. We can’t say things to others about God that we haven’t already said to God in prayer. In prayer, Moltmann says, we see the world with the eyes of God. But the biblical command is not to pray but to watch: “To pray means to open one’s eyes and watch what is happening, what is coming, the dangers and the opportunities.” Images in the catacombs show that the early Christians prayed with open hands and open eyes (interview in Third Way, June).

Happy readers

There’s an adage in journalism that for every angry letter received there are ten happy readers who don’t bother to express their satisfaction. That formula was turned on its head when Susan Reimer wrote a piece critical of the Vatican, saying that it’s hard to be a Catholic woman these days when church leaders are putting pressure on American nuns. Her editor warned her that the long knives would come out; a friend predicted a cross burning in her yard. Instead, among some 60 letters she’s received, only two—both from men—were negative. “I am convinced that the church is not Rome,” one woman responded. “I am convinced that the church is the folks I worship with every Sunday, the volunteers that I work with every Saturday . . . the nuns who work in the nursing homes where my mother was a patient until she died, the volunteers who work with immigrants, both documented and undocumented”
(Baltimore Sun, May 23).