He Who Overcame The Fetters

Inspiring Optimism . . .

April 20, 2003

flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers

So I shall say it here, a seed, let my first word be a seed. Then may come inspiration. From that seed, will a flower grow?

How can my mind grow, so absorbing everything around me? I wish to pin everything down. Today, we celebrated 'Easter' with flowers. The Flower communion service was created by Norbert Capek (1870- 1942), who founded the Unitarian Church in Czechoslovakia. He introduced this special service to that church on June 4, 1923. By 1940, it had reached to the states.

Our speaker gave a bit of this man's history. Parallel upon parallel lines him alongside me. Although born to Roman Catholicism, he soon shed that when he was introduced to the Baptist way. He entered into it fervently, helping to start almost a dozen Baptist churches in Czechoslovakia.

He might have been part of the reason my own Czech ancestors were of that faith. So he and I both began as Baptists. We have also the sewing connection, as he had spent time as an apprentice to his uncle, a tailor whose shop supplied the House of Habsburg.

Religiously, his thought became more liberal and he ''valued the spiritual life above any teaching or dogmatics''. In 1919, he wrote in his diary (YES, DEAR READERS, a journaller like me!), ''I cannot be a Baptist any more, even in compromise. The fire of new desires, new worlds, is burning inside me.''

Capek celebrated the ''hidden cry for harmony with the Infinite'' in every soul. He discovered Unitarianism when he spent some years in the United States, becoming a member of the Unitarian Church in Orange, New Jersey, along with his wife, who was to later become a Unitarian minister herself, in 1921. Later that year, he brought the new faith from the United States to the Czech people.

In just twenty years the Unitarian Church in Prague, with 3,200 members, was the largest Unitarian congregation in the world. But horrible changes were happening politically. On the eve of World War II, in 1939, ''at a time of great sadness for my nation,'' he published a second edition of what he considered his most important work: K slunnemu brehu/Toward a Sunnier Shore, longing to bring hope to hearts torn by the war.

In it, he advocated OPTIMISM: ''people can choose their own moods [and] direct their own feelings," and that they should, above all, "try everything with humor.''

In the face of horror, he kept his face turned to the light.

But as soon as Hitler took over Czechoslovakia, Capek was marked for elimination. The Nazi spies listened to every word he preached. For a time he veiled his message of freedom in Biblical parables and religious double-talk, but inevitably, Capek was arrested and all his writings seized and he was charged with treason.

He was declared innocent of the treason charge, but when the Czech Resistance assassinated the chief local Nazi, the Gestapo, ignoring the court's recommendation, nonetheless sent Capek to Dachau. His papers bore this fatal instruction: "return unwanted."

Living his philosophy, in prison he kept his fellows' spirits up with dauntless humor and a cheerful spirit. Capek's name appears among prisoners sent on an ''invalid transport'' on October 12, 1942 to Hartheim Castle, near Linz, Austria, where they injected him with a lethal poison.

Just before his death, he wrote this prayer:

It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals. Oh, blow, you evil winds, into my body's fire; my soul, you'll never unravel. Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight, and everything worthless seem, I have lived amidst eternity. Be grateful, my soul. My life was worth living. The one who was pressed from all sides but remained victorious in spirit is welcomed into the choir of heroes. He who overcame the fetters giving wing to the mind is entering into the golden age of the victorious.

''He who overcame the fetters'' remained triumphant in the end, for his spirit remained undaunted until the end.

I can't help but think of words our LAURA penned, in her Sorcerer Supreme:

Certainly, you can be wounded ... but never broken. Absolutely, you can be killed ... but not destroyed. Undeniably, you can be assaulted by the world ... but never once prevailed against. Captured ... you are never conquered. Imprisoned ... you are never bound. Weakness, fear, palpable in beating heart, is set aside. Integrity, truth, and knowledge seize meaning, take form and substance, become your passion, provide a magic cloak, a shield, forever molded to your mind.

And when you cease to be, eyes shut in black forever, there is one result rests with you: the truth that you have been, and no one, not man, nor god, nor force of nature, can ever take that away.

My Laura's voice does make good harmony with Norbert Capek, among that ''choir of heroes''.

May I hold fast to such optimism as well.

Many sources were compiled to write this entry
the Unitarian Universalist Biography Project was one of them.

flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers

© Joan Ann Lansberry
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