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A Spiritual Almanac: Letitia Pilkington

Feb 2, 2021

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As a teenager, Laetitia van Lewen married Matthew Pilkington, a priest in the church of Ireland. That same year, the couple became friends with the poet and satirist, Jonathan Swift, who described them as, “a little young poetical parson who has a little young poetical wife.”

But the Pilkingtons’ marriage was far from idyllic. After moving to London to serve as the Lord Mayor’s chaplain in 1732, the Reverend Pilkington quickly became involved in questionable financial schemes and illicit sexual affairs. When Laetitia retaliated by having an affair of her own, Pilkington divorced her, leaving her alone and destitute.

To earn a living, Laetitia began writing poems, plays and even sermons, usually for male writers who passed her work off as their own. Her ex-husband was eventually imprisoned for bad debts, but he used his connections to make sure she couldn’t publish her work in London. So, Laetitia moved back to Dublin where she began publishing in her own name. But her career was short-lived — she died just two years after returning to Ireland.

Our inspiration for today is a poem born from Laetitia’s personal experiences with corrupt and powerful men. Not coincidentally, it’s also a piece that speaks to the moral and ethical failures of our leaders here in the U.S. It’s a short poem titled, “Lying Is an Occupation.”

 

LYING IS AN OCCUPATION

By Laetitia Pilkington

 

Lying is an occupation,

Used by all who mean to rise;

Politicians owe their station,

But to well concerted lies.

These to lovers give assistance,

To ensnare the fair-one’s heart;

And the virgin’s best resistance

Yields to this commanding art.

Study this superior science,

Would you rise in Church or State;

Bid to Truth a bold defiance,

‘Tis the practice of the great.

FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See The Memoirs of Mrs. Letitia Pilkington

More spiritual nuggets for today …

Today marks the death of the British mathematician and Nobel-winning philosopher, Bertrand Russell.

He was born in 1872 in Wales and considered himself an agnostic his entire life. As a philosopher, he introduced the concept of “Russell’s Teapot” — it’s the idea that the burden of proof rests with the person making unprovable claims. Russell said:

“If I claim a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere between the Earth and Mars, I cannot expect others to believe me solely because my assertion could not be proven wrong.”

For more than a century, Russell’s “teapot” concept has been used in debates about the existence of God. Agnostics cite it as a basis for unbelief, while some scholars argue it’s a colorful-but-flawed framework for ontological arguments and discussions about the nature of religion.

On a lighter note, today is Groundhog Day.

The first Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1887, at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if the groundhog sees his shadow and it scares him enough to send him scurrying back into his burrow, we can expect six more weeks of winter. But if he doesn’t see his shadow, we can expect an early spring.

It’s a fun national celebration, but you might be surprised to learn Groundhog Day has religious roots. It’s based on the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas — a holiday when local clergy blessed and handed out candles for winter. The weather on the day of Candlemas allegedly determined how long winter when last. Later, the Germans expanded the practice to include a hedgehog as a predictor of spring, and they brought the tradition with them when they settled in Pennsylvania — substituting the hedgehog for the more common North American groundhog.

It’s been a rough year and I think we could all use an early spring. So, let’s say a little prayer that Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow today.

And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.

Be kind, take good care and we’ll see you soon. 

“Songs for the People” by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Public domain.

For the audio podcast, visit https://spiritualalmanac.buzzsprout.com.

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