A Never-Ending Source of Joy

by Craig Biddle III '53

Sculpture by Craig Biddle III
Sculpture titled "The Road to Emmaus" by Craig Biddle III '53

Strangely, my interview for acceptance to Williams College was short and concise. I met admission director Fred Copeland ’35 for the first time in his office. I was an idealistic, dreamy young man. “Why do you want to go to Williams?” asked Mr. Copeland. “Well, sir, Williams is my only choice. I’ve applied nowhere else. It’s either Williams or the woods,” I said. On reflection, I think it was the strength of that phrase that gained me acceptance. Certainly it was not my lackluster, dyslexic academic record. I was not a scholar, and I hated tests.

Well, the “woods” and my adventurous dreams got lost for a while. But as years went by they crept back in the form of a more realistic alternative: the ministry. The woods and the ministry gave me space to explore my quest for a truly interior life, uncommonly combined with extroversion. Woods and ministry; for both I am eternally grateful.

In what now seems a blurring succession of events after Williams: the Navy, then marriage with seven children, then a business career, then to seminary at 31. Bewildering friends and family, in 1964 I was ordained an Episcopal priest. For 45 years I served in pastoral ministry, during which I was rector of several large downtown churches. It was the 1960s, and my passion for life led me into the middle of political turbulence. In my first foray I initiated a rock band at Sunday services led by an alumnus of the Chad Mitchell Trio. Every Sunday for seven years! That was a blast!

As a civil rights and anti-war activist, I marched across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma with Martin Luther King Jr., patrolled (collar on) the streets of Newark during the riots of ’67, went to jail in Washington, D.C., twice—for opposing the war in Vietnam and illegally protesting apartheid at the South African Embassy. For four years I served on Capitol Hill as executive director of an interfaith organization, lobbying Congress for issues of poverty, racism and war during Reagan’s administration. But the event that still saturates my memory with fear was the Sunday after Easter in 1995, under the cover of night and the protection of the Senior Warden, I removed the Confederate flag from inside a Virginia church where I was interim rector. It was an act ahead of its time. Ironically, its justice is a rallying cry of today.

I loved being pastor, preacher and priest to the people I served in those perilous times. In the midst of it all, I helped raise seven children, one of whom was adopted from Vietnam when she was 8 months old, the product of a black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman. Seeing the world through her eyes has taught me more about racism than I would have ever known. I’ve been very fortunate—all seven of my children enhance my life in endless ways.

Since 1998 I have lived, mostly alone, in a small house in the woods outside Annapolis, MD. I have a winter view of the water and a summer that feels like I’m on neverending vacation. Creativity and adventure are what keep my fires burning.

As I approached 60 years, I began bicycling many places: Europe, Scandinavia, Ireland, South Africa and Chile. For a much-needed spiritual discipline, I bicycled 800 miles alone, zig-zagging along the Camino de Santiago and discovering a new understanding of Christianity. Two years later (2001!) I found myself bicycling 3,800 miles across America: San Francisco to Portland, Maine. Long-distance biking has returned me to the woods and been medicine for my soul. As I have aged, it has also downsized my competitive spirit and intensified my desire to simply do my personal best.

Late in life I uncovered the artist living inside me, a skill I have been gifted and challenged to pursue. Soulworks sculptures in wood, bronze and stone grace my gardens and public venues. Later, when my elbows gave out, I turned to watercolor and acrylics. I now paint wall-sized land- scapes, abstract but familiar, influenced by Jackson Pollock. Visitors view my home as a virtual museum of unsold paintings.

At 88 I am so grateful for the time I’ve had on this planet. Like many of us with age, I suffered a medical event, a heart attack several years ago that altered the pace of some of my pursuits. But I’ve gained a new perspective, maybe even some accumulated wisdom, about living. 

Meeting challenges, defeats and either solving them or living with them (utilizing competency and confidence I learned in the woods) these recurring events generate new life for me. Whether it is creating art or rebuilding chairs and tables at Habitat for Humanity, fixing my motorcycle, riding my bike, writing memoirs or spending time with friends and family, reflecting on mutual struggles and triumphs, life is a never-ending source of joy for me.

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