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."

2018/10/10

Ukulele Gospel

I love Hawaiian music. I love its unique musicality, its special, so-called, slack key tunings. Hawaiian songs are enchanting, whimsical even mystical. They are sweet and gentle, infused with tropical fragrance and inspired with the spirit of Aloha. I believe that the musicality of the Hawaiian language has something to do with it. It is one of very few languages with ONLY open syllables. Hawaiian words and sentences simply want to be chanted or sung.
    But if you look into the lyrics, you realize that words are not only melodious, they are like deep enigmas, they have layers and layers of meanings. Even the simplest songs are far from trivial. On the surface they are about flowers, beaches, waterfalls, breezes ... but underneath are hidden treasures of meaning. Stringing flowers in a cold night is about passionate love (Ahi Wela), clinking of shiny shells is not only an adorable lullaby but celebration of motherly love (Pūp
ū Hinuhinu). And these are just common and expected metaphors.
    We can progress and find a ditty about rains, breezes and other weather phenomena which captures the geography of the entire island (Hilo Hanakahi). And furthermore, a famous love song about Waipio Valley waterfalls (waterfalls stand for lovers) can also teach us respect and love of the local nature (Hi‘ilawe). And in another song, beach-sand is made into a reminder of Hawaiian patriotism (Hawai‘i Aloha) while a melodious song which opens with a line about “the Famous flowers of Hawaii” is in fact a powerful protest-song against American military occupation and colonialism (Kaulana Nā Pua).
    Even a Hawaiian Christian hymn or song often contains some surprising message. On the surface it might be just a simple paraphrase of the biblical text, but under the surface is this deep spiritual intuition and radical social justice message easily matching the cutting edge scholarship.
     Join us this Sunday as we open the “Ukulele Gospel” and let it reveal the new insights from the story of Jesus and the Rich Man (Iesu Me Ke Kanaka Waiwai).


Kumu Kainoa plays tenor ukulele and sings "Iesu me ke kanaka waiwai"

2018/10/02

Ethos of the First Reformation and the Kavanaugh hearing

A good friend asked me about my theological reaction to the Ford - Kavanaugh hearing. Specifically from the perspective of the Waldensian theology. Here is my answer: 
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Let me state from the beginning that I am not Waldensian, but an heir of a similar movement in Central Europe. I studied in Prague under Professor Amedeo Molnar, a preeminent scholar on Waldensian history and theology. He used to say that the renewal movements sparked by Peter Waldo and Jan Hus together made up a First Reformation that predated, in some cases by several centuries, the World Reformation of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. From this First Reformation perspective, I dare to remark: 

1) Swearing or taking an oath at the beginning of the hearing would be totally against one of the original core values of Waldensian ethos and theology. (Waldensians rejected this pivotal part of the medieval oppressive power-system by quoting direct instruction of Jesus: "Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one." Mat 5:37)
 
2) An attempt to rush the process without actually searching for the truth, as diligently as can be done, goes against the very ethos of Waldensian, Hussite and Reformed tradition! Jan Hus' maxim was Pravda vítězí! (in Czech) or Veritas vincit! (In Latin) which, in English, means: Truth prevails!

 
3) Therefore, goals can never justify the means among those who are heirs of the First Reformation. Our spiritual forebears were painfully aware that wrong means always lead to wrong ends.

4) Respect for women was deeply rooted especially in the early Waldensian and Hussite traditions - it included leadership roles of women in these reform movements and respect for their social, legal and religious standing.

5) The followers of Peter Waldo and some followers of Jan Hus (Unitas Fratrum - among which I count myself) rejected every form of violence (which would certainly include any violence, or tacit justification of violence, against women.)

6) The followers of Peter Waldo and Jan Hus were not total abstainers from alcohol, but they detested excess in every way.

7) They rejected any forms of arrogance and entitlement based upon wealth, class or even education. This is what the ancient description of the Waldensians reads: "Naked they follow the naked Christ." 

8) And one closing remark: Calling on the name of God to support one's own political perspective, as one senator did at the close of the hearing, borders on blasphemy. 

2018/09/26

Exoplanets and Faith

This is Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Under its twin domes are two very powerful telescopes. They are responsible for many astronomical discoveries including finding a great number of exoplanets, planets around distant stars. At this time (September 2018) astronomers confirmed the existence of 3,800 such planets and are further looking into additional 2,200 potential foreign planets.
    Because of our instrumental and observational limits, astronomers predominantly find uninhabitable planets similar to our Saturn or Jupiter, but smaller rocky planets similar to Earth were also discovered. The search for exoplanets remains a cutting edge science, and yet it is ever more obvious that a large proportion of stars are surrounded with planetary systems. Considering an enormous number of stars just in our own galaxy, it is almost certain there is life outside of Earth.
    It was not a homiletic joke when Pope Francis asked in a sermon a few years ago: “If, for example, tomorrow an expedition of Martians came to us here and one said ‘I want to be baptized!’, what would happen? Martians, right? Green, with long noses and big ears, like in children’s drawings.” The Pope brought this theme primarily to highlight the need for spiritual openness towards people of different backgrounds, races and cultures. (By the way I believe that people should be treated respectfully regardless whether they ask to be baptized or not, regardless of their religion or non-religion!)
          While extraterrestrial life is almost certain, our chances of getting in contact with sentient beings are extremely slim. Distances between stars and planets are prohibitively enormous and cannot be circumvented. For instance all our electromagnetic signals from radios, TVs, telephones etc. traveling at the speed of light did not get further than to the few dozen nearest stars. We are almost certainly not alone in the universe, but in reality it is as if we really were!
    Notwithstanding theoretical nature of these realities they, nevertheless, raise some intriguing philosophical and theological questions. Join us this Sunday when we discern questions of Exoplanets and Faith.

HR 8799 - the first directly observed extrasolar planetary system.
This GIF animation was composed from Keck Observatory pictures. 


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And a few additional notes.
 

     Anthropologists and even a number of governments felt the necessity to protect the so called uncontacted tribes specifically from zealous fundamentalist Christian missionaries who are known to cause more harm (physical, cultural and spiritual) rather than good to those whom they want to “save”.  

And furthermore, SciFi writers sometimes imagine a greatly advanced extraterrestrial civilization looking at our planet and our specie from a safe distance with a similar mixture of curiosity and desire not to intervene like we do with those uncontacted tribes.
Well, we do not need to hyposticize any such extraterrestrial aliens any more. I know that the last few years our nearest neighbors and recent allies look at our national affairs and at our government with a similar mixture of curiosity, amusement and concern, not knowing what to do with the wild and irrational US administration.

2018/09/20

Alpha Centauri

This sculpture represents a star named Rigil in the constellation Centaurus also known as Alpha Centauri. Polynesian sailors called this star Kamailehope, and as the second brightest star on the southern sky, it helped them to navigate safely the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. Without any instruments and maps, but rather just observing the rising and setting of stars, the Polynesian navigators were able to find distant specks of land in the midst of endless ocean. Stars are indeed an amazing help for measuring time and space.
    This sculpture is a part of the world’s largest art and science installation. Alpha Centauri is at the ‘Imiloa Planetarium in Hilo, Hawaii, but it is also a part of the Carl Sagan Planet Walk in downtown Ithaca, NY. It is in scale model of our solar system and I walked it with my sons when we lived in Binghamton. The Sun is about a foot across right at the center of the town. Earth is about thirty yards away and about the size of a larger poppy seed. Pluto is 3/4 mile away almost at the shore of Cayuga lake.
    Now imagine you are smaller than a virus and standing on that tiny bluish poppy seed somewhere in downtown Ithaca, New York (but frankly, it can be anywhere in New York State) and looking across the entire continental US and once more that distance across the Pacific Ocean ... and there in that distance, on the slopes of active volcano on the campus of University of Hawaii at Hilo is our other nearest star! (Actually a system of three gravitationally bound stars.) From Ithaca to Hilo - it is indeed the largest art and science sculpture, but for me it is also a spiritual sculpture.   
    Carl Sagan once wrote “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. ... It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” Stars can indeed help us to navigate not only vast open oceans, but also our lives.
    Come this Sunday when we will celebrate such bright lights and hear an invitation to emulate stars shining in the dark.


And if you wonder about the location of Rigil (Alpha Centauri / Kamailehope) here it is, close to the Southern Cross. 

2018/09/13

Ferocious love


When the Hebrew Bible, in Song of Songs (8:6b) wants to describe the power of love it uses some strange metaphors: 
            For love is strong as death, 
            passion fierce as the grave.
            Its flashes are flashes of fire,
            a raging flame. 
This is of course a New Revised Standard translation of this verse which, unfortunately, does not do justice to the Hebrew original. In Hebrew it goes something like this:
            Indeed, love is as mighty as Mot,
            its jealousy as enduring as Sheol.
            Love's fever is like Resheph,
            it's fire like Lehabat of the LORD. 
Immediately it reads like a page from the “Who is Who” among fierce and dangerous Semitic gods or demons:
   Mot was a god of death.
   Sheol was an equivalent to the Greek god Hades - a personified Netherworld.
   Reshep was an equivalent to the Roman god Mars, the Greek god Ares. Reshep was a patron of war but also of epidemic feverish infections.
   Lehabat was the least popularly known but feared flying and flaming demonic monster.
Only with this introduction to the Ancient Semitic religion we can began to grasp how truly powerful love was deemed to be by the Biblical poet! To describe love’s ferocity, the Bible uses not one, not two but four fierce and dreaded deities.
And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

P.S. Several years ago I have given a lecture "How many gods made up God", which also mentioned god Resheph - you can find slides and notes of that lecture it by following the link.

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This Sunday we continue our series on Celestial Theology with Resheph - the planet Mars, and also a celestial patron of wars, conflicts and feverish epidemics.
            Yet even such a malevolent theme can teach us something important for our lives, can protect us from our contemporary evils and lead us closer to our loving Lord.

2018/09/06

Wabi-Sabi Artist

Often I think of God as an ultimate wabi-sabi artist.
What is this wabi-sabi?  It is an interesting Japanese aesthetic concept which is quite difficult to explain in words alone. Entire books were written about it. I am not an expert but I will try to show you with the help of this bowl. It is not Japanese but it can help me to illustrate the basic idea.
    It is made of beautiful American wood - Black Cherry. And it was one of our first true purchases after moving to US. I went to a craft fare in Upstate NY, and there among many other bowls was this one. It attracted me for its imperfection and natural beauty.
    The original log was clearly flawed, the bowl did not fit in. Edges are uneven, the wood was at some point infested with wood worms. Edges are notched, over the years we probably added some of our own. There are also visible cracks in the wood, but the beauty of the shape and finish of the bottom tells the story. It was made by a master craftsman who took an imperfect log and made it into a perfect, beautiful and functional bowl.
    That is the essence of wabi-sabi – finding and showing beauty through roughness and flaws while respecting authenticity and simplicity of handmade daily objects. Finding and sharing wisdom of natural simplicity.
    Only a true master can take an imperfect log like this and make it into a practical and beautiful bowl with stories to share and that is what I meant by using this parable of God as a wabi-sabi artist. God is respectfully, tactfully at work in our world; on us and with us. Taking us as we are and shaping us, when we make ourselves available and willing, into something useful and internally beautiful.
    Join us this Sunday at the beginning of the new school year as we celebrate God, the wabi-sabi artist. Join us as we rejoice in being invited to participate in this art project of living our imperfect yet meaningful lives.

2018/08/30

Divine breeze

Have you heard about PHYLLOMANCY?
    It is a form of divination from leaves. In ancient times it was a way to be inspired by a god or gods and to discern the divine will. In its classical form it meant listening to the rustling of lives in some special tree or in a sacred grow. (By the way, don’t we sometimes use a poetic metaphor speaking about a breeze whispering in the trees?)
    Breezes or winds were signs of divine presence or at least a presence of God’s very own messengers and trees and their leaves were instruments which made this divine presence discernible by our human senses.
    In 2 Samuel (5:22) David receives an instruction to wait until he hears in the crowns of balsam trees the sound of marching angelic army. And in Genesis 3 the first humans in Eden recognized the LORD’s presence by hearing the breeze in the garden.
    The Bible itself gives us these examples of this beautiful practice of Phyllomancy. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.


And when you are in a park or a forest away from the rumble and rattle of our modern world, stop for a moment and listen to the whispering of leaves. Perhaps you will hear God’s angels coming close.

And even in our large and busy city we can still visualize even a slight breeze. We can make a prayer flag and every wind can propel our prayers to our neighborhood. Join us this Sunday in the worship as we replace the prayer flag which disappeared few weeks ago.