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."

2017/03/22

Lithic Pillow

“Are all stones alive?” Asked American ethnologist, Irving Hallowell, to his Native American interlocutor, William Berens, when he noticed that in Ojibwe language stones are grammatically animated (treated as alive). The elder thought about it carefully for some time and then responded, “No, but some are.”
    Some stones are indeed special. They might look like any other stones, but they mark special places and represent special events. In upstate New York, for instance, I was aware of several native American cairns. In my Central European homeland I visited Celtic and some older Megalithic monuments and of course everyone knows Stonehenge and perhaps menhirs of Brittany, Cornwall or Ireland.
    Biblical tradition also mentions special stones infused with deep meaning and significance. Some stones are truly crucial to what is called “salvation history” - core stories of our faith tradition. This Sunday one such stone will open our mind for the deeper understanding of sanctuary as a place of rest, place of protection and divine assurance. Come this Sunday to rejoice in the divine message conveyed by one special biblical lithic pillow.

Navigation Heiau (Maka o Hule) on Kohala coast of Hawai'i.

2017/03/08

A church in the wall

In this church I preached my first sermon. The history of this picturesque church in Prague goes all the way back to 1178. As you can see even from this small picture, it is a unique and bizarre structure, over centuries it was rebuilt many times and in many different styles - Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Throughout its long history it was a parish church, a seat of radical Reformation, it was deconsecrated and turned into a warehouse and apartment building with some stores, before it was reconstructed and made into a Protestant church for university students. But for most of its history this church was part of the Prague city wall - hence its name St. Martin in the Wall. The south wall of the church was integrated into the fortification of the Old Town of Prague. Although the church wall was hardly thicker than the rest of the city wall, it was, nevertheless, its safest part. Noone would ever dare to attack the city through the church or even enter the church armed and in hostility!  This historic little church is in fact an embodiment of the very old and revered concept of sanctuary. In Lent this year we will talk, learn and celebrate sanctuaries - these important sacred spaces. Why we need them, how we can use them and why we must protect them.

2017/03/01

Rooster puzzles

1) In the book of Job there is a delightful little verse 38:36 with this many widely and wildly diverse translations (and probably some more which I did not find):
- Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?
- Who has put wisdom in the clouds, or given understanding to the mists?
- And who has given to women skill in weaving, or knowledge of embroidery?
- Who put wisdom in remote places, or who gave understanding to a rooster?
- Who has given the ibis wisdom or the rooster understanding?

Can you imagine more diverse translations? One Hebrew word (טחות) is rendered as: the inward parts, the clouds, skill of weaving, remote places or the ibis! While another Hebrew word (שּׂכוי) is translated as either the heart, the mist, embroidery, or a rooster. So what is the right translation? No one knows! And enough said about the biblical inerrancy of the fundamentalists!

2) Why should the bible declare that chickens are endowed with special understanding or knowledge? Ask any farmer around the world - chickens are proverbially stupid. There are stories about chickens running around the yard and even surviving for weeks after their heads had been chopped out. Clearly, chickens’ need for a brain is not particularly great! Chickens are perceived as uniquely unintelligent birds, unless you consider their ability to welcome dawn and announce rain. But that is another puzzle.

3) Roosters are known to predict dawn with annoying accuracy. But how do they do it? Some biologists think that it is because of their inner circadian clock. I have a different theory. I developed it when I started to take long exposure night pictures. I realized that dawn arrives hours before actual sunrise. Long before my eyes can notice absolutely anything my cameras start picking up the first photons scattered in the atmosphere above the eastern horizon. Then, when it becomes almost visible, roosters begin crowing. Similarly, rain must also be preceded with some subtle changes in luminosity. Roosters, after all, might have this special skill of very sensitive eyes.

This Sunday we will engage further ornithological mysteries, metaphors and legends while we fold origami cranes and send them to deliver our prayers for nuclear disarmament, peace and understanding among nations and peoples.

2017/02/27

We are stardust

The entire world, buildings, streets, trees, meadows, hills and sheep, our entire planet, ourselves included, almost all of it with the exception of hydrogen, is the product of nuclear fusion. That is when two atoms of hydrogen fuse together in a star into an atom of helium and a lot of energy which we can see as light. Later two atoms of helium produce an atom of beryllium still further an atom of beryllium and an atom of helium produce an atom of carbon. And so on and so forth, there are many different fusion processes and reactions each time producing different elements and large quantities of energy - that is why stars shine. Some elements, especially those heavier (from oxygen up - and thus almost everything around us), were formed in collapsing and exploding stars called supernova. Thus almost all elements are in fact the ash from shining and often dying and exploding stars. We are indeed stardust! Come this Ash Wednesday to take this reality in and celebrate this awesome, transformative miracle of creation; ash and new life, the end encoded with fresh hope.

The remnants of supernova called Crab Nebula (By NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll).
The cloud is now 64,660,000,000,000 miles across and expands 930 miles per second.
 

2017/02/15

Black Spiritual Roots

Faith is a special divine gift which is passed on by human mediators and tradents. In that respect I owe my faith to my stubborn Central-Eeuropean Calvinist ancestors who preserved and handed it over through the dark times of contra-reformation (1620-1781). But that was centuries before I was born! More personally and more intimately I owe my faith to the African-American spirituals. I grew up in the Czech Republic under the Communist totalitarian regime. In the midst of stifling censorship, crippling political control and impotent atheistic ideology I grew up with blues and spirituals on my lips and deep in my heart: Swing low, sweet chariot...  Go down, Moses... The Gospel train is coming... Go with Me to That Land... My generation of Protestants found in this Black music an authentic expression of life and faith. We might be white as white Europeans can go, but our souls resonated deeply with the black spirituals. We might sing those spirituals in Czech translations but we internalized the Exodus story (and other formative biblical stories) through the prism of struggle for elemental human dignity and civil rights. I hadn’t met a black person before I was 20, yet through music, I was brought up, to a large extent, in the spirit of black faith, its defiance, resistance and hope. Please join me this Sunday as we learn from and celebrate our black spiritual roots.

2017/02/09

Demons

The New Testament, and more specifically the Synoptical Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), often describe physical or mental illnesses as a demon possession and the acts of healing are portrayed as exorcisms, expelling those demons from the afflicted persons. I always considered this to be a peculiar example of the antiquated biblical worldview.
    Of course, I knew that theologians and anthropologists ascribed it to the folksy origins of early Christianity, while some speculated about distant Babylonian and even Iranian religious influences. No matter how it was explained, it remained to me a clearly dated and somehow embarrassing aspect of the foundational texts of my faith.
    But then, many years after I finished seminary, my beloved professor of the New Testament offered me a new perspective and rehabilitated in my eyes those biblical demons in one sentence, one question; “Aren’t those demons the ancient attempt to disassociate the ill from their illnesses?” The afflicted person behind the illness is still the same, it is the demon, which makes him or her behave differently, strangely or even dangerously.
    When you think about it, this epistemological separation of the persons and their afflictions actually offers helpful and more importantly a hopeful way of understanding illness. In reality it is what modern medicine does all the time while distinguishing between a patient and a virus, bacteria, trauma, foreign substances, stress or extreme circumstances. And modern medical treatment also proceeds by eliminating or at least mitigating these negative external factors (virus, bacteria, stress....) in order to help the patient.
    Biblical demonology and modern medicine in fact share the same underlying insight and approach. As we celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin, come this Sunday to celebrate the healing powers of modern exorcists - doctors and geneticists.


Refugees Welcome!

On Tuesday, February 7th, in the evening we finally welcomed the Khoja family, Syrian Kurdish refugees originally from Aleppo. It was a great joy after a seriously turbulent period and many thanks belong to all members of our Refugees Task Force (specifically Nancy Muirhead and David Mammen), our partner congregations (Church of Advent Hope, All Souls and B’nay Jeshurun). In the final stages special thanks belong to lawyers and many partner organizations (CWS, ACLU, UNHCR). The anxiety and joy of the Khoja’s arrival are nicely captured in these articles by major media listed here in the diachronic order.

The Guardian 
The New York Times

Our Church can be truly proud for living up our faith with determination and integrity. Now the real work of helping the Khojas to adjust to their new home starts in earnest. At the same time we will continue with even stronger determination to advocate for the welcome of refugees and against any anti-immigrant prejudices as we are obliged by the divine Law, Jesus’ Spirit of welcome and our Reformed history.