Monday, May 14, 2018


As I write this our Muslim friends are preparing to keep the holy fast of Ramadan. It is not uncommon to hear the faithful declare that Ramadan is the “best” month. I have never walked that path and so I am in no position to say one way or another, but they do seem to be on to something lovely.

The authors I’ve read largely agree on the conditions in Arabia just prior to when the word of God was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH). At the time it was a land marked by tribalism, raiding parties, war games, usury, exploitation of the poor, abuse of women, rampant vice, idolatry, and a vindictive arrogance which demonized opposition. If all this sounds like the Evening News we might also remember that the classical era was ending, the Roman Empire was busy falling apart, and we were on the verge of the threshold of that period historians cheerfully call ‘the dark ages’. The slow but steady collapse of the unifying forces of the past, and the fractious uncertainty that created, may well have inspired in some a yearning for a religion of oneness, the spirit of tawhid.

The more unmanageable our life together becomes the faster we run towards the surrender we’ve been avoiding. Somewhere in all this there is hope. I have no grand predictions about the fate of the West, either in Europe or North America. I am no historian, I’m a priest; I live in the present with the eternal. What I have learned is simple: At the end of the day, humans are at a loss except for those who believe and live right and encourage each other to be truthful and patient. (Surah 103) Somewhere in all this there is hope.

Monday, June 12, 2017


It has been written that ‘faith’ is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I suppose it could be said I had faith back in August of 2013 when I wrote on this blog of my intention to compose a collection of songs and call the album ‘LIFE BY RIVERS.’ I am thankful for those who believed in this project and I am happy to report that the album (CD) is done. We had a lovely release party on 8th June, and the CD should be available on AMAZON by 3rd July. LIFE BY RIVERS was recorded at Studio Seven in Oklahoma City and has been produced by LUNACY RECORDS.


Saint John River
Down Main Street

A River Called Miramichi
It Takes a While

Cimarron River
In My Home

The Place
Family Reunion

Tomorrow is Another Day

My Mother’s Fiddle

This River Town

(All songs by Dale Petley. All praise belongs to God.)

Monday, September 12, 2016


In 2004 the Catholic Church published an Instruction entitled The Love of Christ Towards Migrants (Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, EMCC). It received Papal Authority on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker:

In migrants the Church has always contemplated the image of Christ who said, “I was a stranger and you made me welcome.” Their condition is, therefore, a challenge to the faith and love of believers, who are called on to heal the evils caused by migration and discover the plan God pursues through it even when caused by obvious injustices.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, can be well contemplated as a symbol of the woman emigrant. She gave birth to her Son away from home and was compelled to flee to Egypt. Popular devotion is right to consider Mary as the Madonna of the Way. (EMCC)

From the day Abraham left Ur to the night the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers began the Hijrah from Mecca to Medina migration has been front and center as an image of spiritual growth, from dead ends to new beginnings, moving out of the darkness into the light. Holy Scripture is full of believers who became migrants for a number of reasons. Hagar and her son Ishmael were banished, thus beginning their migration. Israel was forced to take up residence in Egypt when faced with starvation, and then four hundred years later, they were homeless strangers again wayfaring through Canaan. In fact the Hebrew Law reflects a firsthand sympathy for refugees and sojourners and directs the faithful to feed, clothe, and help them, remembering how we are all the descendants of such brave, sturdy stock. Sometimes people became migrants because their lives were in danger. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fell into this category when they fled to Egypt rather than face the wrath of jealous power.
I am related to migrants on both sides of my family. The ones on my Mother’s side were refugees. They were the Acadians of whom Longfellow wrote, driven away from their home in “the forest primeval.” Exiled from the only life they knew, those poor souls wandered “in want and cheerless discomfort, bleeding, barefooted, over the shards and thorns of existence.”  (Evangeline) I can see them even now; the women with their heads covered in imitation of Mary, favoring blue, our Lady’s color. So many places refused to allow the Acadians to take up residence. They were the despised outcasts of their day; the objects of hate, ridicule, fear, and loathing.

The term ‘refugee’ is derived from the concept of refuge. Among the ancient Hebrews certain priestly cities were appointed as ‘Cities of Refuge’. Someone responsible for taking a life but who did so unintentionally could flee to such a city. The wrathful cry of blood for blood could not reach you in a City of Refuge. That this pertained to priestly cities where worship was offered speaks to the connection between mercy and sacrifice. To this day churches still act as houses of refuge. It is why many of them paint their doors red.
The ancient Hebrews understood the connection between clemency and community. It’s not for nothing that Cain, the builder of the first city, was a murderer against whom vengeance was forbidden. From the beginning there was the recognition that there can be no living together without prevenient mercy seasoning our friendships and agreements. We cannot find our way together when each of us demands our pound of flesh, or as Gandhi put it, “an eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.”
Though justice be thy plea, consider this;
That, in the course of justice, none of us
        Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
                                        And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
                                                The deeds of mercy.
                                                (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1)

 Not only did the ancients grasp the relation of mercy and sacrifice, they also understood the way mercy reinforces liberty. They knew that living together as free people means being informed by history but not controlled by it; that although they had been oppressed and taken advantage of in the past there was no need for them to treat others the same way. I suppose this is why a free Country once saw fit to summon the tired, poor, homeless, and tempest-tossed to her shores, and why a still great nation may continue to welcome wayfarers even today; and be a blessed home for Isa, Maryum, and Yusuf, as they come seeking refuge.

Monday, July 4, 2016


I’ve been thinking about the meaning of ‘adab’. It is an Arabic word with no exact equivalent in English and has to do with kindness and good manners expressed with courtesy and refinement. It is similar to what we used to call ‘grace’ or ‘class.’ It’s what makes us civilized. I suppose this is why 16th Century French Jesuits went to the trouble of composing 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, and why, when George Washington was a schoolboy, he transcribed these rules as part of a hand-writing exercise. Penmanship was taught back then and so were manners.
John Henry Newman wrote that a true gentleman’s concern is in “merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him.” Emily Post said that possessing good manners means having “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others”, and Ann Landers defined class as “being considerate of others.” The First of the Rules of Civility proclaims that “every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Good manners are the practical expression of loving-kindness. They reflect the charity which Holy Scripture says is patient and kind, and is not boastful, proud, self-seeking, or rude. We are told that Christians are to be kindly affectionate one with another with brotherly love, and when we visit each other’s homes for meals we should do so with thankfulness, eschewing all rudeness. ‘Adab’ at its root is a term related to mealtime. It comes from a culture in which dining together is still seen as an act of communion, and everyone eats with the right hand of fellowship, and dips in a common dish.

To live together as one nation is to dip in a common dish. It requires courtesy, thoughtfulness, neighborliness, good will, a desire for fairness, and the old-fashioned virtues of prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. Above all it takes charity and a preference for getting along. In other words we cannot be civilized unless we’re civil. 

In his essay: The Spirit of Appomattox Court House, historian Douglas Brinkley wrote that “while the scars of the monstrous Civil War still remain, the wounds have closed since 1865, in large part, because of the civility of Grant and Lee.” We need civility. No Country is so surely established or has a Constitution so well devised that it can long endure when good manners are abandoned, for then we have forsaken the very virtues required in self-governance. We need grace – the inner and outer adab of charity – if we’re to have any hope of living in peace.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I’m reading Coriolanus for Lent. I’m meditating on the text. It is well worth while. T. S. Eliot thought very highly of the play, and, as he often did, took the quite contrarian view that it was, together with Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s “most assured artistic success.” (The Sacred Wood, 1919) I’ll let the scholars have that debate.
Although he makes reference to the character, Coriolanus, near the end of The Waste Land, Eliot’s extended treatment of the play’s central themes is found in his unfinished collection begun in1931 entitled Coriolan.  It was written at a time when fascism was spreading in Europe and society was sagging at the knees at home. The American philosopher Russell Kirk said of the poem: “It was an appeal to true principles of public order, rooted in religion and in historical consciousness, against ideology, against the cult of personality, against the indifference or irresponsibility of the crowd, against the ‘Servile State’ described by Hilaire Belloc, and against captivity to a moment in time.” (Eliot and His Age, 1971)
There was much in Eliot’s day to cause him to reflect on Shakespeare’s treatment of the story of the ancient Roman General. The rise of Nationalism full of bold promises by great men on horseback and the marriage of technology and empire led the poet to inquire into the deeper sources of authority and meaning. He sought to reflect upon the love that animates community and makes life possible. It seems to me that making room for such reflection is one of the reasons the church observes penitential seasons. We need simply to stand still every now and then and let the parade of pomp and circumstances pass us by, and in that simplicity, to look, and to listen.

 O hidden under the dove's wing, hidden in the turtle's breast,
Under the palm tree at noon, under the running water
At the still point of the turning world. O hidden.

 Have a lovely Lent.

Monday, July 20, 2015


On New Year’s Day, 1953, my mother and father were pulling the car into the driveway of the home of my maternal grandparents in Newton Heights, New Brunswick, when my grandfather, our pépère, came quickly out of the back door to greet them. They could tell by his expression that something truly momentous had occurred. As soon as Dad began to roll down the car window, Pépère, with his thick French accent told them, “Hank Williams died today.” That was huge news back then especially in our home with our great love for what was then called ‘Country and Western’ music. We came by it honestly. My mother’s uncles and aunts each played numerous instruments, most notably fiddle, accordion, and guitar. They performed at barn dances and County Fairs throughout Southeastern New Brunswick in the 1930’s, 40’s and early 50’s. My mother remembered how as a little girl she would listen to her aunts play fiddle and accompany a young singer/songwriter named Hank Snow who would come by the house to play music before heading over to do his show on Moncton’s CKCW radio.
Mum’s Uncle Arthur not only performed songs but wrote them as well. She recalled helping him with a song he was writing during the Second World War called ‘I’ll Miss You When You’re Gone.’

When grey skies are as blue
As when I first met you
And city lights are shining once again …

I enjoy writing lyrics. It’s my principle hobby. I play the guitar but am not a musician and would much rather listen to someone play and sing my songs than perform them. I suppose the great age of lyric writing was during the Big Band era with singers like Sinatra ready to give them voice. That was also the age of Musicals. Even the Beatles did a cover version of Meredith Wilson’s ‘Til There Was You’ from The Music Man (my favorite musical) because they just couldn’t resist a great song.
Getting back to 1953 and the death of Hank Williams, I’ve always had a hard time grasping that he was only twenty-nine years old when he died. He wrote so much in such a short time it’s no wonder he was called ‘The Hillbilly Shakespeare.’

Did you ever see a robin weep when leaves begin to die?
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

My own songwriting has surprised me over the years. As a teenager I listened mostly to the Rock and Pop music of the day tuning in to the radio’s top 40. Then disco came along and I turned off the radio and haven’t listened to popular music since. As an adult I’ve been a devotee of folk and baroque. I wasn’t expecting that so many of my recent songs would have a Country feel to them. Oh well … I blame Hank.


It takes a while to think some things over
It takes a while to see some things through
But then you know the world won’t stop turning
When you stand up and say ‘I love you.’

It takes a while to cross the wide ocean
It takes a while to sail every sea
But then you know even when your heart’s broken
How beautiful this world can be

It takes a while when you live by a river
To see every season come call
It takes a while for some hearts to open
Until it takes no time at all

It takes a while to write a love letter
It takes a while to say some things right
But then you know how feelings lie buried
And true love brings all things to light

It takes a while for roses to blossom
It takes a while for loved ones to mourn
But then you know it’s only in dying
That we are forever reborn

It takes a while when you live by a river
To see every season come call
It takes a while for some hearts to open
Until it takes no time at all


© 2015 Dale Petley (Oklahoma City)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


HAPPY CANADA DAY to friends and family in the “true north strong and free.” While growing up in Moncton we called it Dominion Day, mindful of how our fellow New Brunswicker, Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, suggested calling Canada a dominion based on Psalm 72:8, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." Anyway, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. By the way, if you’re from Moncton and still call it Dominion Day you probably remember The Bunkhouse Boys, The Bore View Restaurant, Moncton Family Outfitters, Bunny’s General Store, the days when we referred to places as Léger's Corner, Georgetown, and Newton Heights, when Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption was the city’s tallest building, and when the subway overpass on Main Street was resplendent in glorious pink. Like the song says: “If home is where the heart is I’ve never been away.”

 I wrote this song a few weeks ago.


 In my home close to the ocean
There’s a river running by
And the memories of a lifetime
Are the ones that will not die
I know I can’t get lost there
No matter where I roam
For when I am in that city
I’ve already found my way back home

Hear the bells of old St. George’s
Calling everyone to prayer
It’s a Feast Day or a funeral
There is incense in the air
I see people taking pictures
As the tide comes roaring in
And if I try to explain it
I don’t know where I would begin

I took a walk down by the river
Saw the ghost of Molly Kool
She was Captain of her vessel
We never learned of her in school
I wandered back to Main Street
Where I watched the setting sun
And as I heard the sound of music
I knew the night had just begun

When I sing a hymn at midnight
That the angels joy to hear
God comfort me with apples
And the knowledge that you’re near
The busy streets grow quiet
I hear nighthawks in the sky
As I fall asleep I’m smiling
And love is the reason why

 © 2015 Dale Petley (Oklahoma City)