Monday, July 25, 2022

My Take on This I Believe—Murfin Verse

The NPR revival of Edward R. Murrow's early 1950s radio series inspired a new edition of the printed essays in 2009.

Yesterday’s summer service at the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois was lay led by the church’s Poetry Group.  The topic was This I Believe inspired by Edward R. Murrow five minute radio program on CBS that ran from 1951-1955.  Murrow solicited short mini-essays—no longer than 3½ minutes—in which the famous and ordinary people explained their person core beliefs.  The series was non-religious and one of the first to identify itself a spiritual and personal.  It was enormously popular and spun off book collections and a widely circulated syndicated newspaper column.  It was subsequently adapted and for series on Radio Luxembourg for British and European audiences 1956-‘58, National Public Radio (NPR) 2005-’09, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2007, and syndicated by Public Radio International (PRI) from 2009 to the present.

I did read with members of the Tree of Life Poetry Group for the 2019 Winter Holiday music and poetry program.  Carol Alfus, second from left, Gail Harris, Deb Glaubke, and Sue Rekenthaler to the left of her.

Four members of the Poetry group which has been meeting regularly for several years since being called together by former minister, Rev. Sean Parker-Dennison brought their distinctive voices, perspectives, and verses to the service framing them with short statements.  Carol Alfus, Gail Harris, Deb Glaubke, and Sue Rekenthaler have all had their verse shared here.  It was a wonderful and inspiring service.

I was asked why I didn’t participate.  The answer is simple—I am not a member of the Group largely because I was unable to attend meetings when it began.  But it did get me to thinking about what I might have contributed.

I think three short pieces that were included in my 2004 Skinner House collection We Build Temples in the Heart.


The first was actually inspired by the book Credo of belief statements by Unitarian Universalists that was in turn inspired by the original radio program.  It was also the statement I read when I signed the membership book of what was then the Congregational Unitarian Church in Woodstock.


We Believe—

            that many streams join to make a river

            that the way to wisdom lies in the open ear and heart

            that goodness may be pursued for the sake of goodness

            and not from fear of punishment

            that knowing and not knowing are part of the same

            and ambiguity is permissible.


            —Patrick Murfin

The second was actually the only surviving fragment of a fantasy novella about meeting Merlin the Magician in a Chicago dive bar.  The uncompleted manuscript scrawled on a yellow legal pad was destroyed, along with everything else I owned, in a rooming house.  The fragment survived because it was in a little notebook I carried in my shirt pocket.  After I included it in the book the poem became widely used at weddings and at UU services about love.  Years later I discovered through genealogical research that the name Murfin, which I had always assumed was a variant of the Irish Murphy actually came from Cornish Gaelic for Merlin and meant “dark man.”  Small world.

 Merlin Said


Love is the only magic—


It enriches the giver

     as it nourishes the object.

It serves the instant

     and washes over the ages.

It is as particular as the moon

     and as universal as the heavens.

If returned it is multiplied

     yet spurned it is not diminished.

It is as lusty as the rutting stag

     but as chaste as the unicorn’s pillow.

It comes alike to the king on his throne

     and the cut purse in the market.

If you would have magic,

     place faith in love or nothing.

—Patrick Murfin

The next one was written especially for a service inspired by the Great Story—a science and spiritual take on creation and existence from the Big Bang onward.  I took that to the most personal level.


An Honor to Be Alive


This happenstance assemblage of atoms.

            this collection of random stardust

            echoing an explosive moment of creation,

            this unlikely bag of seawater, carbon, and stone

            oddly and inexplicably ambulatory,

            miraculously sees and recognizes you,

            the very you seeing and recognizing.


It is an honor to be alive.


Patrick Murfin


Much more recently this one was written for a service on hope.


Hope With a Hat Tip to Emily

I have been rummaging

            through closets and boxes

            long stashed in the furthest corners

            of the basement

            searching for Emily’s feathers

            to stick in my hat

            and go out to face

            the raging world.


But someone has bound them up

            into a duster

            to do their humble, homely work

            come triumph or catastrophe.


Patrick Murfin



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