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On Music, Humanities and Religion in Our Lives

“Monday Musings” for August 12, 2013

Volume III, No. 30//123


Down Memory Lane…

124,000 Prophets, 5000 Music Composers…

Music, Humanities, and Religion in Our Lives

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

As a child, I grew up memorizing the 114 Sura(s) of the Islamic Bible, the Holy Quoran. Along the way, we were tested on all 6666 verses, and 77,457 words of the magnificent text. Also, we learned passages from the Hindu Holy Book, Bhagavad Gita (Ghandi read it every morning upon arising and every night before retiring to bed), Zoroaster’s Avesta, and chapters from the Jewish Bible, the Torah. In addition, the Jesuit school, College Saint Louis where I attended, emphasized instructions about memorizing the Western and European literature beginning with French. We learned that the Christian Bible has 66 books, 39 in Old Testament, 593,493 words; 27 books in New Testament, 181,253 words; a total of 774,746 word in the entire Christian Bible (not hard to memorize!). Just an aside, Shakespeare has 118,406 lines and 884,647 words…Astonishing!  Did Shakespeare know more words than God? Sheer blasphemy!

Faithful readers of this space recall my love affair with Mother Simone of College Saint Louis, awe of Father Bertunesque, and sheer terror of Mon Pere Superior, the school Headmaster. Mother Simone was a toughie! She was to teach us “Les Literatures Francaise de dix-huitieme siècle” (18th century French literature) but she began the year with 15th century Francois Rabelais (1494-1553), then crisscrossing  all époques and periods, she covered Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755), Voltaire (1694-1778), Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1754), Alphonse Chateaubriant (1877-1951), Alfonse de La Martin (1884-1947), right up to Marcel Proust (1871-1922), Emil Zola (1840-1904), Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Note that some of those writers were still alive in the 1940’s when I was going to that school, but just the same, they all came in purview of Mother Simone’s course of 18th century literature!  In addition, she somehow succeeded in ‘horseshoeing’ foreign philosophers, such as British John Locke (1632-1704) and German Philosopher, Friedric Hegel (1770-1831) and others because their thoughts and teachings were consonant with the French authors she was tackling. The closeness of John Locke with Montesquieu is a good example.  She used to say Montesquieu and Locke go together like oeufs et jambon (ham and eggs!)

Mon Pere Bertunesque was a tall wiry priest with a long pointed beard/goatee, and deep set brown eyes that invited a lot of dark shadows in the sockets making his eyes appear to be set deeper. He had a penetrating gaze that ‘pierced a hole in granite.’  He would not inflict corporal punishment. His gaze was enough…

We had additional memorizing to do: every Persian child from educated families memorizes Persian poets whose books asymptotically approach the popularity, if not the holiness, of the Holy Quoran. They are the collected work (Kolliat) of Hafiz (1337-1406), Saadi (1210-1290), Rumi (1207-1273), Kahjeh Abdollah Ansari (1006-1088), Baba Taher Oryan (around 1000-1055—accurate dates are unknown) and of course the epic poets such as Ferdowsi (940-1020). British scholarship holds that John Milton (1608-1674) followed Ferdowsi’s style and metrics in writing Paradise Lost. To all this add the basic sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, trigonometry and astronomy, plus the arts  (music, painting or calligraphy, Naskh and Nastaaleegh), and you will have the rich curriculum of College Saint Louis.

Composers Parallel Prophets

With all this exposure to so many religions, we learned that there are 124 thousand prophets sent by God, starting with Adam, and ending according to the Christians with Christ who will appear on the Day of Judgment (book of Revelation). In Islam it is Imam Mehdi (Imam ASSR-or contemporary Imam) who will appear on the judgment day…  These prophets have been sent to make human lives more righteous (the word righteous means tuned), to make life peaceful, without friction, just like a toned engine, with no friction and no inefficiency or waste. I have been seeking parallels between religious prophets who brought us righteousness, all 124,000 of them. My conclusion is that a handful of music composers, people like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, including Chevalier de Saint George, known as the Black Mozart (1745-1799), and the British Mozart, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), nephew of the famed theologian John Wesley, founder of Methodist Church, who brought us music, basically accomplished the same thing as the prophets. They brought us harmony, joy, and peace.

The list of these 5000 world famous composers, far shorter than 124,000 prophets, start with French composer Adolph Adam (1803- 1856) through Russian composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) provides the reader with an astonishing source of power and sublime beauty. Music like religion is life changing. Composers of music, like prophets, have brought God’s gift of peace and joy and promise of redemption to mankind. Having music as a part of one’s life and vocabulary is a privilege. Music, especially Viennese/Northern German classical music with its rich harmony, and melismatic Italian/Southern European music with its rich melody, are necessary for life like food and oxygen.  Symphonic music elevates the majesty of human soul.  As psychiatrists, we fight addiction.  But here is a case where I advocate addiction: addiction to reading the Holy celestial books, and drowning one’s self in a sea of classical music and Opera.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Summer Reading and Synesthesia

“Monday Musings” for Monday July 22, 2013

Volume III, No. 27/130

School of Athens

The School of Athens by Raphael

A Few Thoughts On Summer Reading and Cultivating Synesthesia

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Words are powerful. Language is powerful. We not only communicate with words and languages, but they, the individual words, tell us about us, about our nature, and even about our future. Consider the word, the individual word, the first word of the great works, such as Iliad, Odyssey, the collected work of Mowlana Mohammad Balkhi Rumi, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, etc.

Homer’s Iliad starts with the word “Anger.”  This very important word becomes the theme which is carried out throughout the entire epic. The story of intrigue, covetousness, deceit, anger and violence runs through all the 24 books of Iliad. Agamemnon stole and seduced Achillies’ concubine, and Paris abducted Helen, daughter of the great God Zeus and wife of the greek Menelaos, ending in Achillies killing Hector and finally, Achillies himself getting killed by Paris.

The book of Odyssey starts with the word “nostos,” homecoming or return (etymology of the word nostalgia.)  The word sets the tone, and becomes the theme of Homer’s Odyssey. Saint Augustine’s almost sacred 13 books of Confessions start with “Inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.” (Our heart is restless, until it rests in you.) These powerful books as well as the rest of the five million three hundred thousand words Augustine wrote are a must read. Enjoying the most enigmatic book of all time, the christian Bible, I have learned to pay special attention to the words that open and close the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament.  Also, I have learned to pay special attention when numbers are used: resurrection after three days (Lazarus was revived after four days), 40 days of wandering in wilderness,12 disciples, (after his suicide, Judas was replaced immediately by Matthias),12 tribes,153 “fishes” (bad grammar!) in Gospel of John, etc. I think it would be a good idea to take the children and grandchildren to your own library or the public library, check out some of these books and make a game of finding the first word in each of these book, and see if they develop into a theme around which the book, the epic, or the work is written. That would be a fun game.

In this space, we have spoken of Rumi and how as a child I used to look forward to a newspaper that carried a column elaborating Rumi’s poetry. Well, several faithful readers wrote to tell us that they are anxious to read more about Rumi, and will wait by their mail box for the fresh “MM” coming down the pike.  They want to read Rumi and satiate their longing for mysticism and transcendence of this most honored and honorable 13th century (1207-1273) Persian poet, Mowlana Jalal-ad-Din Mohammad Balki Masnavi Mowlavi Rumi’s first word in his massive collected work is “listen.” Yes, the word “listen.” Listening is the essence of love. Listening is so important that another Persian great poet and philosopher, Mosleh-e-Din Saadi (1210-1290) said  “We are given two ears and one tongue, so that we may listen twice as much as we may say…”


We have spoken of synesthesia, a wonderful phenomenon where being exposed to one set of stimuli, like reading or listening to a lecture, ushers in other stimuli or sets of stimuli and sensations, such as music or envisioning paintings. Several readers have written and wondered if this is a genetic, inherited and inborn attribute, naturally occurring, or could it be acquired. The answer is probably yes to both. Raising children in a rich environment of words, music, poetry, dance, discourse, reading and even arguing and intellectual disagreement will inculcate a sense of awareness and appreciation in children of the expanse and abundance of life, its possibilities, and what it can offer. To that extent you can teach a child to use their God- given multiple senses as fully as possible.  However, to some synesthesia comes naturally.

I was reading or shall I say re-reading (for the umpteenth time) Plato’s Symposium, this is a recording of the dialogue between his teacher, Socrates, and in this instance, a young man named Phaedrus, a student or interlocutor of the Master, Socrates. Reading this conversation brought fresh insight and better understanding of the nature of love. As a result, it brought an exciting and different experience. As I read and re-read the speech, the conversation and the poem, learning about “soul love-agape” and not “body love-eros,” I saw the perfect symmetry, verbal counterpoint of a fugue subject, balancing sophist vs. philosopher, humanist vs. the divine; temporalist vs. eternal, rhetoric vs. dialectic, opinion vs. knowledge, appearance vs. reality, body vs. soul, esse–being vs. videri—seeming, profligacy vs. progress, parsimony vs. economy, solipsism vs. introspection; secularism vs. eschatology, licentiousness vs. liberty, idolatry vs. idealism, convenience vs. commitment, etc….,  and suddenly I saw Socrates as a conductor coming to the podium and all these speech components playing together and producing the rich and sumptuous music of Bach’s  Brandenburg Concerti… Oh, what a feast of verbal and musical complexity of counterpoint and beauty. What a perfect fugue subject!

I believe every child ought to be exposed to the work of Plato. Perhaps you might wish to include the collected work of Plato, all of his work, 1810 pages, as a part of your child’s birthday or Christmas gift. Also, with the present ought to go the gift of commitment that you will read the book to your child and encourage verbal dialogue and intellectual engagement with your child.

 Love of the Lord

If all oceans, rivers and falls turn in to ink…

And the trees and forests of the world into paper…

And, if I could commission the talents of all poets, artists, philosophers, sages and writers…

It would still be impossible to begin to tell of my love for you, oh, Lord God.

Hafiz Shirazi, aka, Lesan-ol-gheib.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Monday Musings” for

Monday April 8,2013

Volume III, No. 13/116

Monday Musings 

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – His Legacy of Noble writing, justice and moderation


Exactly 68 years ago, On April 9, 1945, on the gray morning of Easter week, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged. He was 30. Germany was on the verge of total defeat. But Hitler’s killing machine was still operating. Bonhoeffer was charged as a traitor to Hitler and to the Nazi regime. We are dedicating today’s “Monday Musings” to honor the memory of this outstanding scholar, theologian, Lutheran pastor and writer. Bonhoeffer was the son of a well to do and prominent German neurologist, professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Berlin and the director of the psychiatric clinic at Charité Hospital in Berlin, Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer. Dietrich, with his twin sister, were the fifth and sixth of eight children. His mother, Paula von Hase, was a daughter of Klara von Hase, a Countess by marriage who had been a pupil of Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt Paula was a college graduate and home-schooled the children. The family was full of classical musicians and music advocates. He was in America in 1930, and later pastored miners and common people in Barcelona as a pastor and not academic theologian. He was interested in ecumenism. He concentrated on removing and neutralizing Hitler and his despotic regime.

Dietrich was an exceptional pianist, and his parents thought he might pursue a music career. He was also athletic and played championship tennis and chess. He was expected to follow his father into neurology and psychiatry, but he surprised and dismayed his parents when he decided by age of fourteen to become a theologian and later a pastor. When his older brother told him not to waste his life in such a “poor, feeble, boring, petty, bourgeois institution as the Church”, 14-year-old Dietrich replied: “If what you say is true, I shall reform it!”  What we learn from his later life, he was a martyr, too. Just like Socrates who had a chance to escape the prison where he was awaiting death sentence on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, Dietrich, too, had a chance to accept the help of the World Council of Churches and flee to US. But he did not. He waited his trial, spending two years in jail before his execution. During his time in jail, he wrote a series of articles and treatises about human rights and humanities that approach Socratic dialogues in their eloquence and Plato’s Republic in the beauty of poetry and linguistic supremacy. From prison, he also wrote love letters to his twin sister. The collection of these letters and the ones written to other members of his family and friends provide superb reading to understand the potential strength of conscience and man’s devotion to the truth. And the truth to him was that the Nazi Regime was despotic in need of elimination. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. However, recent research now challenges the assumption that he was directly involved in the assassination attempt. His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world is well-known. He did not advocate theocracy, but strongly suggested that humanity ought to be governed by laws that are fair, righteous and moral. As a matter of fact, the last thing he did before approaching the gallows, he was reading from his pocket edition of Plutarch, and was quoting from Bible. Faithful readers of this space recall that we reviewed Plutarch book “Moralia”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was reading passages from that book before his execution.

Bonhoeffer has written 25 books all worth reading and re-reading. From the collection, I find myself going back to two volumes, Act and Being.

Like any classic literature, Bonhoeffer’s writings have a theme, are written with elevated and noble language, and change the lives of the readers.  His pen continues to speak to us today.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.


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On Persian History and Christianity

“Monday Mornings” for Monday March 18, 2013

Volume III, No. 11/115


Norooz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


March 21, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. Iranians will celebrate year 5774 on Thursday. The Persian people and the Persian civilization were there before Moses (1590 BC-1470 BC, lived to be 120 years) wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (scholarship not-withstanding)……

The Persians were there before the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian law code, was written in 1772 BC.

Persia, the Persian Empire and Zoroaster gave humanity monotheism, and issued the first declaration of human rights. Persia was there before the Old and the New Testaments….

Avesta was there before the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation…. Monotheism was exhorted in Gata and the Book of Gushtasb by Zarathustra before Moses wrote about Yahweh….

The Zoroastrian code of conduct: “good thought, Good word, and Good deed” was there long before the Ten Commandments…

Cyrus the Great of Persia liberated the Jews 500 years BC (Babylonian Captivity). There are dozens of references made to him and to the Persian Empire in the Bible. In Isaiah 45 Cyrus is named Messiah. Additional references may be found in Chronicles, Ezra, Daniels, Hezekiah, Maccabees 1, Maccabees 2, Maccabees 3, Maccabees 4, Maccabees 5, Esdras, Sirach, and Esther. 

The world’s first charter of human rights, Cyrus Cylinder, housed in the British Museum, has started its exhibition tour in the United States. It is being exhibited in Arthur M Sackler Gallery (the late Dr. Sackler was a psychiatrist).  It will go to J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles, in December. The writing is elegant cuneiform (Mikhi) script (link below).

And the Persian New Year, vernal equinox, when the day and night are equal and exactly 12 hours long, representing nature’s exquisite justice, was celebrated 5774 years ago, in the month of Edar Awal which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian new year or Norooz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Norooz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5774.

We are Persians; we are inheritors of such dazzling history and civilization….

And with humility and gratitude, we share this joyous occasion with all humanity.  Happy Norooz (New Day, New Year) to All.


 *The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)


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On St. Paul, the Birth of Mozart, and Discovery of CETP

Monday Musings
Volume III, No. 3/107
by: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


Conversion of Saul to Saint Paul. The Birth of Mozart. Discovery of CETP.

This week three important events take place. I will elaborate in the order of importance.

Event I

The Feast of the Conversion of Saul to Saint Paul the Apostle:

Many biblical scholars and historians of impeccable credentials including Eusebius of Pamphili, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Ambrose who converted Saint Augustine of Hippo form pagan pursuits and Manichean beliefs to Christianity in 386, and baptized him on Easter morning 387, and Pope Gregory, have written and attested that the conversion of Saul to Paul took place on January 25. Among more modern historians, I recommend a comprehensive and magnificent book published in 1747 by Oxford Press written by the most formidable historian of early Christian era, Lloyd George Lyttleton (1708-1773). The book uses earlier references to lay down the cornerstone of this historic event, namely conversion of Saul to Paul on this date. Saul was a Pharisee with a precise/dry life style, demanding, draconian, exact and unforgiving. Every “t” had to be crossed and every “i” had to be dotted. He lived a life of exactitude with no love and no joy. Paul on the other hand brought the message of hope, faith, love, charity and forgiveness. The two people, Saul and Paul, were extremely opposite in orientation and life style. In many Christian churches including the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches, January 25, is celebrated recounting the conversion. The feast is at the conclusion of the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and International Christian Ecumenism” which began in 1908. The feast is an octave (an eight-day observance, not a musical octave!) spanning from January 18 (observed in Anglican and Lutheran tradition as the Confession of Peter, to January 25.

Here is the collect for the occasion.

“O God, who taught the whole world
through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul,
draw us, we pray, nearer to you
through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today,
and so make us witnesses to your truth in the world.”

Event II

The birth of Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Gottlieb Mozart:

257 years ago, on January 27, 1756: God wanted to show his mere mortal children, like you and me, what He could do with music. He chose a special child, Mozart to demonstrate the complex sublimity and eloquence of music. Mozart composed more than 623 incomparable pieces in all genre of music, from symphony to opera, to chamber music, etc., in his short life of 35 years. We devoted the December 16, Mozart’s mortal anniversary “Monday Musings” to the miracle of Mozart. If you do not have it, please e-mail us and it will be sent to you.

Event III

A New Discovery in Health Care. A Plug for Prevention:

Like any other human endeavor, in medicine, we have hype, hyperbole, hysteria and high drama. Charlatans from every corner claim to use their powder on food to make you burn calories and lose weight. Full page ads for miracle treatment of back pain in both skinny and fat people. It should be known to all obese people who suffer from back pain that taking off one pound of body fat takes five pound off the aching back. Incidentally, in my view, doctors advertising in news media, both print and electronic, violate Oslerian ethical mandate of medicine. It is very distasteful. It is more than distasteful. It is really disgraceful. Medicine is not a commodity. Medicine is not a business. Medicine is a calling. Medicine is a priesthood, and we, as doctors, are privileged to be handpicked servants to help our patients (not clients, not heath consumers) for which we should be grateful.

However, there are some medical discoveries reported in peer reviewed journals that are époque making and worthy of note. The recent discovery of Cholesteryl Ester Transfer Protein (CETP) or Evacetrapid is one. A bit of explanation is in order. In America, cardiovascular diseases are the biggest killers followed by cancer. For over a half of century scientists have implicated excess circulating cholesterol, especially low density cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol is responsible for occlusion of coronary arteries, leading to heart attack. We have produced a class of drugs call Statins that lower the bad cholesterol and increase the good. However, Statins have undesirable side effects. The side effects include muscle and joint pain and muscle damage. In some cases Statins have been known to cause lysis or eating away of muscles called rhabdomyolysis. Other side effects of Statins are liver damage, kidney failure and fatigue/depression. Liver damage caused by Statins occurs by increasing production of digestive enzymes. Other serious side effects may be low libido and pancreatitis. I see quite a few patients with neurological side effects, such as memory loss, depression and sometimes more serious neurologic conditions.

Back to CETP: A very important paper published in Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) describes a new chemical that assists cholesterol lowering drugs or Statins to become more effective and biologically efficient. the name of the agent is Cholesteryl Ester Transfer Protein (CETP) Inhibitor. It is potentially capable of replacing use of Statins altogether doing away with Statins’ side effects. But the best life style is prevention, proper diet; exercise and discipline of what one puts in one’s mouth are the ultimate answer to good health. Medicine does have its genuine miracles. In America, a pill taking culture, we have been brain washed that for every ill there is a pill. A pill to sleep, a pill to stay awake, a pill to focus and concentrate, a pill to cure erectile dysfunction, a pill to cure irregularity, a pill to regulate too much regularity. A pill to cure depressed mood, a pill to tone down elevated mood. Aram Khachaturian or Leonard Bernstein could have done well to compose a piece of music like Saber Dance or Candid to express our ominous pill taking culture. I submit that we should pay more attention to prevention. With 80% Americans ranging from fat to very obese and morbidly obese, no wonder we have so many cardiovascular deaths, diabetes, musculoskeletal, that is back and joint problems. I believe we must invest in prevention and have a major national program of awareness to seriously address health issues most caused by fatness. One of the things that I think is most discouraging is to see so many doctors and nurses (health care providers) who are obese. This is truly an ugly and unacceptable site. Instead of putting something in our mouths, we must learn to take something away from our mouths..

Surely, here we are celebrating the discovery a chemical that will potentially help millions. But the main message is to celebrate prevention. We have had luminous achievements in this field. Salk vaccine against polio is a good example. 2011 was the first year no polio was reported in India with a population of one billion. Malaria is on its way to extinction, same as some 25 other infectious diseases including the big killer small pox. To take responsibility for one’s health is not only a civic, but a moral responsibility. Tobacco, alcohol and obesity kill without discrimination.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine(1995-2012)

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The Night of Yalda, A few words about Christianity, and King James Bible

Monday Musings for Monday December 17, 2012

Volume II, 41/93


The Night of Yalda, A few words about Christianity, and King James Bible

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


The month of December portends four events carefully choreographed by aligning stars to produce a cosmic feast. The first event, of course, is Christmas on December 25. The other events are winter solstice, December 21, the longest night of the year and shortest day of the year; and Hanukkah, the festival of lights which this year began on December 8.  The fourth event, to some of us equally important, is the birth of Ludwig Van (not Von) Beethoven on December 16.

Although not a religious holiday like Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is about rededication to the will of Yahweh. Reading religious holy books including Zoroaster’s Avesta; Hindu’s sacred and magnificent book, Bhagavad Gita; Moses’ Torah, Christians’ Bible, especially Paul’s letters in the New Testament; and Islam’s Qur’an, one becomes acutely aware of commonality of the message of these books: love, duty, responsibility, redemption, promise and possibilities for all humans, for all children of God. Here are some thoughts on some of these matters:

December 21 is the longest night of the year.  In Mede and Persian history and Zoroastrian tradition, it is a holy night, “Night of Birth”, the birth of Mithra, the God of illumination and salvation. The birth of Ahura Mazda.

Persian poets have written extensively about the night of Yalda (Shab-e-Yalda).  Here is a stanza from Baba Taher Oryan (950-1019), the mystical Persian poet who roamed the mountains of Hamadan naked

Shab-e-Yalda is the longest night of they year,

To have more time to read and learn…

To have more time to worship….

To have more time to reflect…

To have more time to connect with the beloved and

To have more time to nurture one’s soul…”

We know that Plato wrote extensively about the soul, Zoroastrianism, and the night of Yalda

May you have a fruitful and joyous Yalda night.

II-A Few Words about Christianity:  Commercial vs. Spiritual

Christmas as a religious observance and Christmas a secular event may co-exist, woe unto the cynics and to the intolerants. In ancient days of Egyptians, Persians and Romans, they celebrated the winter solstice called the Saturnalia which ran December 17 to 24. They closed offices and exchanged gifts. This is the time when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb, once more, in the sky. In its earliest days, Christianity did not celebrate the Nativity at all. Only two of the four Gospels even mention it. Instead, Easter was the most important day in the Christian year. In 325, when the Church fathers convened in Nicea, they focused on this issue and decided that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon of the spring, making it a moveable feast. In 354, the year Saint Augustine of Hippo was born, Pope Liberius decided to add the Nativity to the Church calendar. So, it was he who decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on the fixed day of December 25. It was not until the 1800s that commerce got a hold of Christmas and resurrected the ancient gift giving of the Roman Saturnalia. In 1828, for example, the American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the plant poinsettia to the US. It has been associated with Christmas ever since. We have room to celebrate the secular feast of Saturnalia, winter solstice, on the 25th of December. To get us closer to God, eternity and spirituality, observe the mystical and holy phenomenon of the birth of Christ religiously both at the same time. It is unhealthy to engage in extremes of either or and to be cynical and intolerant of others. After all, Christmas and Saturnalia are to enhance love and understanding.
III-Reflections on the end of the year:

To the thousands who read us and hundreds who write us from across the globe, we offer our thanks.  We will, from time to time, publish some of the issue-centered letters that deepen our understanding and elevate the level of discourse.  After all, that is the primary purpose and the etymological meaning of education, from Latin educata: to uplift and elevate knowledge and understanding…

Our faithful readers remember at the end of 2011, we wrote an essay about the King James Bible.  In 2011, the Holy Book became 400 years old.  There were quadricentennial observances of the birth of the Bible throughout Europe.  In my view, the King James Bible translated and written by “Secretaries of God” (see my review of the book by the same title in Wake County Physician magazine , Volume IX, July 2004) is a work that ennobles your soul.  The accuracy, elegance, and lapidary Elizabethan English and the Shakespearian stylistic influence on the translators are unparalleled.  We will write more on the subject in 2013.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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