About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."

2016/09/28

Global Communion

Cathedral in Sk√°lholt.
When a religion goes global it is faced with some surprising challenges, especially if it insists on the rigid adherence and fossilized interpretation of its rituals (as is often the case).  Just look at medieval Icelanders.  In the year 1000 their parliament adopted Christianity as their national religion. Soon they were faced with a serious problem. Communion wine was very expensive and often not available at all. Icelanders could not possibly grow their own grapes so close to the Arctic Circle. And as much as they were audacious sailors, bringing barrels of wine in their open boats across the stormy North Atlantic wasn’t reliable enough. Resourceful Icelanders came up with a simple solution - they started to brew their local berries or substituted mead for wine. An ingenious solution perhaps, but it was soon banned directly from Rome. Communion was to be served only with wine, and the wine made from grapes. Sometimes it feels like wine growers had a really powerful lobby in Rome. 
    Protestant missionaries had similar problems all over the tropics. Grapes do not grow in the arctic and subarctic regions but they do not grow particularly well in the tropics either. Grape vines need a cold dormant season. In the tropics a vine grows plenty of leaves, alright, but hardly any harvestable grapes. And in addition to wine problems, the tropics presented also a problem with the bread. Before the arrival of missionaries it was virtually an unknown food. In the tropics, yeast is unpredictable and hard to work with and after bread is baked, it spoils really fast. Roman Catholics had their communion wafers, while Protestants kept on baking and serving strange approximations of wheat breads. Could it be that bakers had a similarly powerful lobby among Protestants?
    These are unfortunate examples of rigid ritualism, textual fundamentalism and lost opportunities to translate Christian faith to the climates, and into the lives and cultures of the peoples around the world. Thankfully these attitudes have been changing in the last few decades. I came across long, and learned tracts discussing with all sincerity the use of wafers in protestant worship and sometime even the use of other juices of other berries, as long as they are red. (As if the color was so important!) Some theologians are slowly recognizing that wine and bread are staple foods of the Mediterranean region while other cultures have their own staple foods. And as is often the case, these other staple foods and drinks also have their deeper symbolical meanings; cocoa in Mesoamerica, ‘awa or poi in Polynesia, tea or mochi in Japan to mention only some. Many of these foods and drinks (and their symbolisms) are well suited to be adopted and to help translate the deeper meaning of Holy Communion.
    This World Communion Sunday we will take Holy Communion global. So come this Sunday, taste and see that the Lord is good, God’s love endures forever and permeates the entire world (not only the Mediterranean corner of the world).

2016/09/21

Enlightenment and Religious Tolerance

Can Jews, Christians and Muslims live in peace with one another without prejudice and hatred? Can people of different religions and confessions coexist? We are not the first ones who ask this question. While we ponder this question with fear and anxiety, there was a time when people asked it with anticipation and hope. 
    The first church which I served right after my ordination was founded in 1785 and in its old sanctuary (it had two sanctuaries!) was an altar with this Latin dedication (shown here on the picture) to the Holy Trinity and with respectful thanks to the Emperor Joseph II and his successor Francis I.
    My predecessors were not a bunch of sly toadies. They were genuinely thankful to Joseph II, the exemplary Enlightened Monarch. After dark centuries of religious persecution, the Enlightenment finally brought reason to the matters of religion, and with it eventually came the long overdue freedom of religion and the freedom of individual conscience.
    Today, the seductive sirens of religious, cultural, racial and national intolerance and chauvinism grow ever louder and stronger. It is good to remember the ethos of the Enlightenment, this formative intellectual, cultural and spiritual movement. On this side of the Atlantic, the Enlightenment stood at the cradle of the United States, her Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In Europe the Enlightenment grew up from the dark centuries of religious intolerance and wars and presented alternatives of reason, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
    I rejoiced when Chris Jones offered to perform in our church a pivotal excerpt from the play “Nathan the Wise”. When Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote it, it was so radical, that the official church made sure it was never performed during his lifetime and the book was put on the index of prohibited books. Why? Because it advocated for religious perspectivism and tolerance - the conviction that Judaism, Christianity and Islam complement each other.
    This Sunday is our Homecoming, we enter our new program year with the hopeful message of Enlightenment and Tolerance.

2016/09/15

Hieroglyphs with Susan Brind Morrow

This weekend we will welcome to Rutgers the published author and poet Susan Brind Morrow. She will bring to us her love and deep interest in Egyptian Hieroglyphs and more specifically the Pyramid Texts.    
    In the Bible and our Judeo-Christian tradition Egypt does not have good reputation. The Torah (the Law) specifically branded Egypt inseparably in the phrase “the land of Egypt, the house of slavery”.  It is a clear moral, political and religious judgement. The law and prophets admonish contemporaries as well as all the descendants (including us) never to return to Egypt. Why then to do it, against the explicit biblical warning?
    Firstly, for two months in the series on Forgotten Religion we did something like that. We checked and revisited the truth and validity of the assumed postulates of our faith tradition.
    Secondly, and more importantly, according to the most recent scholarship there is a two thousand year difference between the Egypt of the Bible and to the Egypt of the Pyramid Texts.
This is roughly as large a difference as between some current fundamentalist megachurch and the band of Jesus’ disciples.
    We do not dismiss Jesus, his ministry and his teaching because of some distant corruption of his teaching. To the contrary we go and search diligently for his true ethos and his deep insights. And that is what we want to do this weekend with ancient Egyptian texts. Susan Brind Morrow recasts the Pyramid Texts as an important religious poem, arguing that these immaculate engravings describe not only a foundational religion and philosophy but a radical way of viewing the world.

2016/09/07

Time Machine

This is clearly not a regular clock. But it has the power to open our minds to new perceptions of time and even can become a real time machine allowing us to travel in time. Or more accurately, it can help us to experience time in different way than we are used to. 
    This special clock is in Prague on the medieval Jewish City Hall. (It is a different clock from that more famous astrological clock with figures of apostles, which is on the Old Town City Hall.) Hours on this clock are marked in Hebrew letters: Alef for one o’clock, Beth for two etc. And thus this clock shows time in counterclockwise manner, if you wish, backwards thus mimicking the Hebrew way of writing and reading from right to left. 
    In further departure from established customs, clock hands have opposite functions; a shorter raffia points to minutes while the longer one shows hours. Keeping in mind the counterclockwise direction and flipped function of pointers, can you guess what time is shown on our picture? (If curious – the answer is at the bottom of this column)
    If you feel a little dizzy, know that it is intentional. Far from showing backwardness, this clock is in fact a very clever mental tool shaking us up from our settled ways and opening our minds to new perceptions of time. For instance in Hebrew the word for the past QEDEM means not only “the East” but also “that what lies ahead” and the word for the future ACHARIT means “behind ones’ back”.
    Clearly, in the not so distant past people were differently oriented in time. Past was before them and future behind and it was so not only in Hebrew language. There are vestiges of this orientation even in today’s English. We still speak about day before yesterday or day after tomorrow and our “ancestors” are literally (from Latin) those who “went before us”. Time machine on the Jewish City Hall in Prague cannot move us to different epochs but it can visualize for us the magic of time and open our minds to new possibilities in our orientation in and perception of time.  As we conclude this Sunday our quest for forgotten religion, we will immerse ourselves in this magic of time and the role of ancestors in our religion. 
(Time on the picture is about 6:20)

2016/08/31

Ora et Labora

Every day (almost) in the morning I iron my shirt for that day.
    For me it is not a chore, it is a spiritual exercise. Like any other spiritual exercise it engages deep and complex sensual experiences of heat, touch, smell; it also has its own proper time and rhythm. The rhythm is in the sequence in which I press my shirt. But there is also a rhythm of seasons with long and short sleeves, dress shirts and my Hawaiian shirts. Above it all, day after day I can even observe subtle changes of daylight as the Earth, and all of us with it, circle around our star. I understand why Homer sang about the rosy-fingered dawn.
    In my regular occupation as a church minister I usually do not see immediate results of my work. With ironing it is satisfyingly direct. There are results right away; before the iron there is a crumpled fabric and after is a nicely pressed shirt. And even if I make a mistake in a false or wrong crease, it is also immediately obvious and there are ways to correct it - a little bit more steam or perhaps some sprinkling. It is an interesting metaphor for our living.
    Of course I have my preferred shirts, based on materials and the makes. While ironing my shirts, I also come close to them. Thus I learned to value shirts by the quality of their fabric and how well they are made. For some time, when I buy new shirts, I have preferred those which I like to iron. The hands-on and down-close experience is changing the way I perceive the world and this is also an interesting spiritual insight.
    Every time I iron my shirt I remember those who taught me this skill. I remember my maternal grandmother who was still using a stove-top heavy iron to press shirts for my grandfather on his way to the glass factory. Of course we had electricity, but she clearly enjoyed the old fashioned way. And then, I remember my mom who taught me how to iron my shirts before I left home for seminary, clearly anticipating it might come handy. This chore is for me a spiritual connection with and expression of respect to my maternal ancestors.    
    Of course there are many and quite inexpensive places to have my shirts pressed and they can probably do it much better than I, but in no way I am giving up my spiritual exercise! At the same time, please, understand that this is my personal experience; you don’t need to start ironing your own shirts in order to get spiritual. I write about it to show that anything can become spiritual in the right context and with an open attitude. The truly spiritual is never detached from mundane life; it is often hidden right in the middle of it, in plain sight. 
   The lectionary reading this Sunday from the prophet Jeremiah will take us to the potter’s shop and help us to observe the miracle of creation and meaning of life. Come this Sunday to observe a master working with clay and should you so desire, put your own hands on some clay.

2016/08/24

Magical writing

    As I learned to write in the first grade, almost instantly I put my newly learned skill in practice in one of its oldest, magical and also rather embarrassing ways. By that time, the novelty and charm of school had worn away and fresh, shy and well-behaved first-graders inevitably reverted to their natural selves and tested the nerves of our patient and longsuffering teacher. On one such hectic day during a short brake between the afternoon classes we amused ourselves by throwing at each other a blackboard sponge dripping with water. All the boys in our class gleefully took part in this skirmish, even some girls joined in, but only I and two of my best friends ended up with extra homework and notes for parents. As was often the case, it must had happened not because we were the fiercest but rather the loudest and most excited participants. (I used to have a very high pitched voice.)  
    Feeling seriously wronged and bitter we regrouped after school in a dark corner behind the gym. Almost no one knew about that place, even the school custodian hardly ever visited that spot. And there, on the wall, we fused our bitterness with our newly acquired skill of writing. In white chalk on a soot-stained bricks we wrote and drew our rather lowbrow opinion about our teacher. It wasn’t intended for anyone’s eyes, but writing it up on the wall made us feel immediately better. Certainly much better than just mumbling it to each other or to our friends.
    Little did we know that we had just reenacted the ancient magical use of writing. As people developed the script and learned to write, the inscribed words were perceived as having greater and higher powers. Thus archeologists find inscriptions and carvings in places where hardly anyone could see them. And an abundance of ancient monumental inscriptions were made while less than one percent of people had the knowledge to read them. These are all examples of the writing magic in action. Deep down in our minds we can still recognize that script retains some of these magical powers even today. Writing, and especially inscriptions, still feel somehow special, longer lasting and more potent.
    This Sunday, in our quest for forgotten religion, we will venture to the times before writing was ever imagined. We will go before religion was ever written down and recorded in scriptures. Of course, religion before writing and before scriptures has a much longer and deeper history than with scriptures! Join us as we discover serious dangers of scripted religion. And rejoice with us in venturing and discovering the charming and surprising realm of unscripted, oral faith.    

(I have never told anyone about that writing incident behind the gym, even this many years later I still feel a little embarrassed. All in all I loved my elementary teacher and I remember her with deep respect and love. When we accidently met fifteen years ago on a sidewalk of my old hometown, it was one of the brightest surprises of that whole year.)

2016/08/17

Lotus Birth

Lotuses and water lilies are surprising and spectacular flowers. They seemingly grow on water and although, after closer inspection, they grow from mud, they nevertheless bring forward pristine blossoms. Lotuses have some of the simplest yet most beautiful flowers. Any time I visit a botanical garden, I am irresistibly pulled towards the lily ponds. Deep down, intuitively, I know why ancient religions chose the lotus – this evocative flower – and why they endowed it with layers of deep meaning.
    In Egypt, the waterlily was a symbol of birth and rebirth. In India, padma (the sacred lotus) is a symbol of purity and spiritual awakening (spiritual birth). In our own biblical tradition we perhaps have the most archaic form of this metaphor. In the Song of Songs, the lover is frequently mentioned as grazing in the garden - however, not among lilies, as traditionally misinterpreted, but on the lotus. As mentioned in theological dictionaries, the lotus is an ancient well known euphemism of love – more precisely, a place of conception and birth.
    This Sunday we continue our quest for forgotten religion and we will look directly at gestation and birth as a powerful religious image. Readings from the Hebrew as well as the Greek Bible will show us that the metaphor of pregnancy and birth has deep, powerful and meaningful religious roots in the birth of the world - its creation and ongoing recreation.