Posted by: philipfontana | November 30, 2016




My Life Anchors


Philip Fontana


     Excuse us for living, but over the years of our lives many of us find we have need to call upon sources for spiritual sustenance. We need these fountains of strength to get through difficult or demanding moments or chapters in our lives. I look at these sources as my life anchors. These are very “portable” entities, separate from or outside customary church-going and organized religion. I refer to these anchors as “spiritual-lite.” They offer guidance, comfort, strength; solace, if you will.

The first is “Desiderata,” Latin for “desired things.” This poem, written in prose, words to live by, was very popular in the 1970’s and I found it personally instructive and inspirational. I used it in my middle school history classroom with my students. It hung on my podium as a poster and I would play a popular 1971 spoken word recording of it made by TV and radio talk show host Les Crane. I would go over the text with my students for its meaning. It is a neat recording recited well by Les Crane with a musical background sung by a choir or chorus.

Once read or heard, most people are curious where “Desiderata” came from. It does not help that there are copies floating around that say, “author anonymous, c. 1620. Baltimore, Spain. from the wall of a monastery.” Actually, it originated as a poem written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann. The music was added later, composed by Fred Werner. “Desiderata” was saved from obscurity in 1956 by Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, Maryland. He included it as part of a “compilation” of devotional materials for his congregation. On the cover page was printed, “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692,” the date of the founding of the church! These words had nothing to do with “Desiderata,” but so began the various mistaken corruptions of the poem’s derivation!


            Max Ehrmann. 1872-1945, of German descent, was an American writer, poet, & attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana. Spiritual themes were characteristic of his works. Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem, “Desiderata,” achieved notoriety in the decades after his death, recognized today with a statue honoring him in his hometown.


“Desiderata” – – the recording – – peaked at #8 on the “Billboard Chart” in 1971 and won a Grammy! Here is the URL to click on (if it works for you) or “copy and paste” it to go to YouTube to listen to it. It’s really nice! – – Or just read it here as follows. You may find as I did, the poem offers wise precepts by which to live. – – First, the URL.



Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it’s a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

                                 –Max Ehrmann

     The second of my spiritual-lite anchors is “Footprints,” referred to as a poem, but to me it is more of a spiritual narrative. It comes in a least four versions, including an alternative title, “Footprints in the Sand,” often accompanied by an appropriate photograph.

Here again, the authorship of “Footprints” is disputed among dozens of people, a discussion of which I will spare you. However, the source and inspiration was indisputably conceptualized in a 19th century “footprints imagery” traced to the opening paragraph of a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a British preacher, in 1880. – – I’ll spare you the details here as well.

“Footprints” was introduced to me in the form of a plaque, given to me by a teacher when I was a principal. Reading “Footprints” for the first time is truly special. If you never read it, you may be pleasantly surprised as I was. My first reaction was almost one of disappointment, as if I had been denied some special truth up to that point in my life. And yet, I knew in my heart that through the most difficult times in my life, I must have received help “from above” with faith and strength. – – See what you think. See how you feel.



One night a man had a dream.

He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.

“Lord, You said that once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”

The Lord replied,
“My son, My precious child, I love you and I would
never leave you. During your times of trial and
suffering, when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I Carried You.”

And the third “spiritual-lite” anchor, “The Serenity Prayer,” familiar to you in part, no doubt, is by far my favorite. The first stanza is well-known due to its use at “AA Meetings” (Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings). But to my delight, many decades ago, I discovered the prayer in its entirety in, of all places, a “Dear Abby” column in a newspaper! I was so taken by it, I gave small, laminated copies to my wife and three sons. I considered knowledge of it a real gift. I always carry a little card copy in my pocket like a money clip. And it stands at my bedside and on my desk shelf as well.

My greatest surprise was to discover that “The Serenity Prayer” was written by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943, known to me as a political theorist and scholar and author through my political science studies. Little did I know that Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most renowned theologians of 20th century America. He was a Congregationalist and professor at the Union Theological Seminary in Brooklyn, New York, for over 30 years, 1928-1960.

See what you think of “The Serenity Prayer” in its entirety…just in case you’ve been reciting the first stanza alone at Friday night meetings. It really is so meaningful, helpful, and beautiful at the same time. – – Talk about “spiritual anchors”! “Serenity” reduces life to the basics and grounds you.  But first a little more about Reinhold Niebuhr.


           Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971, was of German ancestry, born and raised in Wright City, Missouri. Niebuhr was such an accomplished & controversial theologian & political theorist, he cannot be done justice in a mere caption here. He was praised & scorned by conservatives & liberals alike at different times in religious & political circles. His political philosophy & political theology were intertwined. Author of numerous prominent & distinguished books, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964, he went from being a prominent leader of the Socialist Party of America in the 1930’s to being a strong voice confronting Soviet communism after 1945.


         The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Excuse us for living with a little help along the way from these spiritual sources. May you too have your own favorites that you rely upon!

Comments: Please!

Sources: My personal files & notes, Wikipedia & various online websites





  1. Phil, These are all excellent passages that have all been meaningful to me at various points in my life. Footprints is especially dear to me because sometimes it does feel as if the Lord has left us alone in our misery., even when we know better.

    • Sandra DeYoung, Sandy, So nice to hear that these passages were meaningful to you at different times over the years. That was my experience as well. Footprints! My first reaction to it was really even stronger than I stated in my post. I read it & I was mad!!! I said to myself, “I wish I had known that, had that thought, when the going was rough!” But when I settled down I realized that these words were another way of saying “faith” & I had always known that & turned to Him for help. –Similar to what you are saying. Many thanks for this! Phil

  2. Desiderata- Never heard of it- but really enjoyed the reading of it with the video.
    I like the part when he says don’t compare yourself to anyone- someone will always be better than or worse off then you. That kind of comparison will lead to to sadness or bitterness.

    Footsteps has always been a favorite of mine & a great reminder in difficult times…

    And I never heard the Serenity prayer in its entirety! Thanks you for sharing…

    Although not based on God- 2 mantras I love to say when I’m feeling overwhelmed or down…

    “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up & show up!! ”

    And one you used to tell me all the time at TCC- fake it until you make it!!!

    • HEATHER!!! Never read or heard “Desiderata”???!!! Well, I am happy for you! What a treat! Right! Comparisons …that was an important point! I love, “Many fears are born of fatigue & loneliness.” Glad you know & love “Footsteps.” And the entire “Serenity” is so special & excellent!!! My very most favorite to guide me. Like your mantra!!! Woody Allen’s famous quote is, “80% of life is showing up!” You remember! “Fake it ’til you make it!” THE FUNNY THING HERE, UNLESS YOU WERE ABSENT, IS THAT I PRESENTED ALL THREE OF THESE & HANDED OUT COPIES WHEN I DID A DEVOTIONAL AT ONE OF THOSE MONTHLY TCC MEETINGS!!!!! HA!!!!!!!!! I used some of those notes in my TCC presentation to write this!!! Thank you for the most meaningful comment on my post I am sure!!! Phil

  3. Phil, I have Desiderata and the Serenity Prayer both framed and hanging in my bedroom, both originally framed by my father and hanging in his bedroom.

    • Richard Bower, Rich! Very touching to me to hear this from you…..that your Dad valued Desiderata & The Serenity Prayer both….& for their content & nostalgia sake you too, as Dad did, have them hanging in your bedroom. We all must turn to these anchors from time to time when our strength falters or needs refreshing renewal. Thanks for commenting. May you enjoy a holiday season filled with music! Our love to you. Phil & Geri too!

  4. Greetings Phil-
    I loved your column today. I had never heard of Desiderata, I LOVED the music and reciting of the words-made me think.

    I also love the “Footprints” prayer, and that makes me happy to think that the Good Lord had carried me thru rough times in my life, and there have been many.

    I do have the serenity prayer in my bedroom on my wall, but not in it’s entirety-now I know the “rest of this prayer”…thanks!

    • Marg, Wow! To discover “Desiderata” for the first time is, indeed, truly special!!! To me it is profoundly helpful in looking at life. And “Footprints,” yes, exactly, God carrying us through the tough spots!!! I take it from what you said that was known to you. And you have the first stanza of “Serenity” framed & on the wall! Now you can enjoy it’s message in its entirety! What WONDERFUL comments!!! Thank you! See you soon! Phil & Geri too!

  5. […] Phil whose site is well worth a visit and please comment on his site on this really great post … Spiritual-Lite // Excuse Us for […]

    • Great post as always Phil and posted in full not reblogged as it would miss off the video or parts of this wonderful post … Footsteps for me says it all as many years ago I started my path towards God and to learn what it is he wants me to do for his people … It began with the word and will end with the word when weapons of war are turned into plough shears once again and tears turn to laughter … Be well be safe now and always ….. Link here my friend #AceHistoryNews – Dec.07: This post is by my friend and a great writer of history Phil whose site is well worth a visit and please comment on his …
      Spiritual-Lite – @AceHistoryNews

      • Ace Worldwide News Group, Ian!!! Many thanks for posting “Spiritual-Lite” in full!!! That will catch the great video-audio with Les Crane’s “Desiderata” which took a Grammy & #8 on the Billboard Chart 1971-1972. And I could not agree more about “Footsteps.” I too had an experience reading it while I was a school principal. I shook my head in wonderment that He alone carrying me explained how I had survived so many minefield in my path!!! Health to you as well with a joyous Christmas & a cheers bringing in 2017 with all we face at home & around the world. Thank you once again for viewing “Spiritual-Lite’ worthy of inclusion on your great website & when it’s Pearl Harbor Day # 75!!! I’m sure you will be covering this momentous day!!! Phil

      • Thanks as always and look forward to your next post as always with anticipation … Ian 😊

    • AceHistoryNews, Ace Worldwide History, Ian!!! Many thanks here! You caught me off guard & surprised! I did not think my content of “Spiritual-Lite” fit the mold of your great news & history pieces. But you are Editor-in-Chief & know best!!! I am once again so honored to be included on your website with all the great work you do in content stories! Many thanks! Phil

  6. So very heart warming my friend and all of it true. You actually have one of my favorites up there… Footprints. I read that everyday. Lots of love to you and Geri!

    • Padre Eddie, So glad you approved of & liked this post. These three have been partners with me for the last 40+ years! They have helped me through some tough experiences in my career as an educator in particular, but also with life in general. So nice to hear Footprints belongs to you too! Love to you too, Phil & Geri too!

  7. Reblogged this on Padre Tatro's Desk and commented:
    Please stop by and read up on my dear friend and history buff Phil’s blog. He is a philosopher on many subjects and yes Phil I said philosopher.

    • Padre Tatro, Many thanks for the experience of being reblogged which I always find to be most humbling. Calling me both a history buff & philosopher will get you everywhere!!! HA! The history, yes, but I’ve never before been called a philosopher! Thanks, Padre! And that you found worth in these three spiritual pieces means a great deal to me, Padre! Thank you again for everything! Phil

      • You’re most welcome my dear friend. 🙂

  8. I learned a lot from your post. The Footprint is truly heartwarming. Thank you for sharing this and your thought 🙂 Wishing you a wonderful December and Christmas ❤

    • Indah Susanti !!!!! So glad you found this worthy! Yes, Footprints feels like a gift upon reading it for the first time!!! Have a Merry Christmas & Cheer in 2017!!! Thanks for looking here! Hope you & yours are very well & traveling safely & enjoying your USA years! Phil

  9. I have never found that I needed that kind of spiritual sustenance. When I was having a bad day or was down, I simply went to the beach, the forest, the mountains, the rivers and ensconced myself in Mother & Father Nature. If, for some reason, I couldn’t do that, I put on some music, preferable music that I could sing along to, like The Beatles, The Who, The Monkees………

    • Russel Ray, Ah, but your love of nature WAS fulfilling your spiritual needs!!! And music too can do the same! You are very spiritual, Russel!!! Phil

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