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."

2015/02/26

Diagonal reading

Once I met a person who interpreted everything, or almost everything in the world, from the perspective of political ideology. Anything she commented about was either good or bad, hopeful or unfortunate, depending where it stood on the perceived political spectrum or more precisely, whether she thought it helped or hindered the success of her political party. At first it was refreshing, but soon it became quite tedious. Thus I discovered that some Democrats can be as narrowmindedly dogmatic as many Republicans. Ideological politics was her pervading frame of reference, her dominant context. Although I shared similar political leanings, I soon felt profoundly sorry for her, because life is so much broader, full of colors and infused with vibrant fragrances which all are beyond any political ideology!
    Thankfully our faith presents us with wider and more vibrant alternatives. Just listen and observe the broader context of Jesus’ parables and sayings. Either we can analyze each parable one by one, in the way it is often done in churches, and try to discern what the yeast, or a feast, budding tree, or workers fee can teach us about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Or we can look at the broader narrative context of these parables together and hear what they tell us about the world in which they were coined and told.
    When we read Jesus’ parables in this diagonal fashion, then we discover not only the bucolic world of Palestinian farmers, deeply rooted in their agricultural life with earthy and rich metaphors of sowing and growing and reaping and animal husbandry. In addition we also discover a world which was familiar with unemployed day laborers, with repossessed fertile land left uncultivated, with robbers waiting around main roads, and with beggars picking in the rich peoples’ trash, with parents forced to beg and borrow food for their hungry children. We are not learning anything directly about the Kingdom of God, but we are introduced into something even more important; we observe Jesus’ world, his audience, their fears, aspirations, challenges and hopes. We see the Kingdom of God in a broader, richer context in which we can identify our own fears, aspirations, challenges and hopes.
    Come this Sunday to apply this diagonal reading and understanding to the biblical love song. Come to search, uncover and celebrate the helpful and hopeful overarching context of the biocentric biblical love.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526-1593)  - Flora.


2015/02/19

Color of God

What color is your God?
What a silly question!
But is it really that silly? Deities all around the world are known for different and vibrant colors, most notably the South Indian gods and goddesses. Ancient gods were also colorful. Their sculptures, Greek famous marbles, also Egyptian statues of granite or sandstone, we are told, were originally painted. Most of those colors peeled away, but sometimes we know their hues. The Egyptian god Amon was blue, Osiris green. The Greek goddess Demeter and her Asia Minor equivalent Cybele were black, just like some manifestations of the goddess Isis or the mighty Aphrodite and her Syrian counterpart the goddess Anat.
    It is especially this divine noble blackness that has survived in religion until now. The divine black was taken over and baptized by ancient and medieval Christians in the form of black Madonnas. I vividly remember one Black Madonna from Prague, standing on a corner above a street just a block from the Mozart Theater. The Polish Solidarity movement formed under the patronage and protection of the even more famous Black Madonna of Częstochowa. There are famous black Madonnas in all Catholic countries: There is one in Eisiedel near Zürich, one in Chartres in France, and Die Schwarze Muttergottes ("Black Mother of God") in Altötting, near München or the black Madonna in Loreto, Italy, or Our Black Lady of Guadalupe in Spain. Their shrines are among the most revered and visited pilgrimage locations.
    Protestants, especially Calvinists, could hardly resist sneers over these examples of medieval superstition. But that would be ill informed and itself a form of reverted prejudice. Catholic devotion to black Madonnas preserved something religiously meaningful and deep. The noble black color has elemental divine connections not only in the polytheistic pagan realm but also in the Bible. On the deepest religious levels black is an indicator of something special and archetypal – black is different and beautiful. We only need to take it further, beyond just mere Mariological devotion, all the way back to the center of theology.
    So what color is my God? My God is beyond color, and full of colors, rainbow colored, and without doubt, she is also black and beautiful!
    This Sunday we close the Black History Month and open our "Lent with the Song of Songs." our theme this Sunday will be "I am black and beautiful!" (Sol 1:5) 

The Goddess Isis mourning her brother-lover Osiris.




2015/02/12

Knife in mouth

“Don’t ever stick a knife into your mouth! Bring food to your mouth only with a fork!”
These were some of my first lessons in table manners. Early on I internalized continental table manners and I would never ever lick a knife in public or even private.
    This etiquette taboo feels almost like some ancient or perhaps the original part of table manners, but it is not. As an essential eating instrument as a fork is, it happens to be a relatively recent arrival. It spread to Europe from Persia, via Byzantium and Renaissance Italy. A table fork became a commonplace only by the 18th century. Before that most people used just knives and their fingers. But after the fork arrived, the original humble two pronged fork quickly developed into dozens and dozens of shapes and specialized uses with strict customs and rules. The fork nicely represents the evolution and co-evolution of an instrument and cultural customs and norms.
    But the evolution of a fork, like any evolution, is ongoing. First appeared sporks - hybrids between spoons and forks. They were soon followed by even more popular sporves - combinations of spoons, knives and forks into one utensil. In my family we love hiking and backpacking. And when we need to carry everything on our backs for miles and miles, I tell you, these strange space and weight saving eating chimeras make perfect sense. Decades after being told not to do it, I started again to lick knives and even stick them into my mouth - with a sporf there is no other option: it combines spoon, fork and knife. And after I broke both of my wrists last year, I found the sporf especially convenient not only for backpacking but also for daily use at home.
    This Sunday in worship we celebrate Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. This year we will apply the universal principle of evolution to the church table manners and customs. Even Holy Communion has its origins in ancient Jewish rituals and a long history of development in different historical contexts and periods. As we celebrate Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, we will look at how it applies to our religion and how it can broaden and enrich our understanding and appreciation of Holy Communion, this important part of our spiritual life.

Two of our Swedish camping sporves.

2015/02/05

The Art of Navigation

How do we navigate stormy oceans of our daily living? Is there any help, any advice from our religion?
     Of course there is possibility, for instance, to observe the flight of strange birds or to count the stars with God (a moon god if possible or at least a god with some astro-selenial attributes)! What other useless advice would you expect from a religion thousands of years old and similarly irrelevant?
     But wait a moment! Don’t  we all know the saying “As the crow flies”? But how does the crow fly? And why did this become a saying? Why does it matter?
     Crows are proverbially clever birds. They find and follow the shortest distance between two points. This trait came especially handy to old sailors and seafarers. Vikings are known to have taken caged crows for their open sea voyages. When they felt they were close to a land or when they got lost at sea, they released a crow. If the crow returned to their longboat they knew they were still far at sea (by the way that is why the top of the mast was called the crow’s nest). But if it took off and flew away, they followed its flight to the nearest firm land.
    Other ancient sailors used other birds. Polynesians sailors, for instance, used frigatebirds in a similar fashion; it is also a clever bird which cannot land on water. Thus these sayings “As the crow flies” and “crow’s nest” confirm that English was a language of seafarers. 
     Strangely, this same use of birds (a raven or a crow) is described in Genesis when Noah is looking for the dry land. It is indeed unexpected to find this ancient navigation practice described in as land-lubbing book as the Bible! It shows surprising curiosity and interest in the real world beyond the limits of everyday lives of the authors and their original audience. And after a raven, a dove was sent, returning with an olive shoot. It was destined to became a globally recognized emblem of peace.
      This arcane augury is not the only example of the ocean navigation in the Bible. This Sunday we will look at several other traces of biblical navigation, this time looking closely at and counting the stars of all different kinds. Traces of ancient astrological myth will help us orient our lives and provide bearings for the safe sailing through our stormy world. Wasn’t it, after all, Immanuel Kant, of blessed memory, who said something about an awe over the starry heavens above and the moral law within?

A drawing of an Iron Age scaraboid from Irbid
depicting a moon god seated on a heavenly barge
bringing out or counting stars.



2015/01/29

Snow, hoar, rime

Have you ever looked at a snowflake? I mean really, really close! If you have, you have probably noticed that they are like marvelous exquisitely beautiful miniature gems! Snowflakes are indeed like gems because they are crystals, water crystals with a hexagonal structure. What is even more astonishing is the fact that every single flake is absolutely unique!
    It was a farmer from Jericho, Vermont who helped to demonstrate this. Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley (1865-1931) spent his winters photographing guess what -- single snowflakes! With his bellows camera, glass plates and macro lenses he took pictures of more than five thousand individual snowflakes. Each and everyone was unique! Other snow experts continued in his legacy. They are unanimous: among all the snowflakes not a single pair has ever been seen which were exactly the same.
    Shapes of snowflakes are influenced by the rules of physics, especially crystallization. They are shaped by the momentary temperature, dew point, wind, humidity, and also by pure chance present in the cosmic rays triggering the crystallization nuclei. As a result, every single snowflake is a uniquely beautiful and tender crystal of ice.
    Anytime I see snowflakes gently descend from heaven in their multitudes, driven by a strong blizzard or sparkle in the air gently flaking from heavens, I cannot stop marveling over their miraculous overwhelming beauty. I am mystified and perplexed over the superfluous diversity of their nature. Snowflakes are like the rest of creation – unique, gentle, perfect in their unrepeated and unrepeatable shapes and forms. They come in billions and zillions and fill the air and earth with their white, gentle unending excessive plurality and diversity.
    I might know the physical explanation of their formation, yet I rejoice over this auspicious phenomenon of extravagant multiplicity and diversity and sing with Psalmist:

          Hallelujah!
          How good it is to sing praises to our God;
          for the LORD is gracious,
          and a song of praise is fitting.
          ...God gives snow like fleece,
          scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
          God sends rime like breadcrumbs,
          who can endure God’s icy cold?
          Soon at the divine command - all it melts,
          God breathes - and water flows again.
          Hallelujah!


Join us this Sunday allowing snow, hoar and rime to teach, inform and inspire our faith.


And for those who read this far: there is a unique claim that two identical ice crystals were discovered in 1988 by Nancy Knight from National Center for Atmospheric Research. She found in high clouds above Wisconsin two identical thick columnar tubular ice crystals. 
But first of all, these are very specific kinds of ice crystals - many people would have difficulties calling them snowflakes. But more importantly if you look at the picture they actually have minute differences in their structure as well as on their surface. I would claim they are very similar but not identical.


2015/01/25

Radical beatitudes

If we want to understand the radical nature of some biblical passages, it is often quite informative to flip them upside-down. Inspired by Erasmus of Rotterdam and his “Praise of Folly” we did it this Sunday with Jesus’ beatitudes (Matthew 5).

  • "Blessed are the powerful and rich, because they can congregate in Davos and plot how to rig the world and get ever richer and more powerful.
  • "Blessed are the wannabe celebrities and all other egomaniacs, for they aspire to live their lives like a never ending party.
  • "Blessed are the proud and arrogant, for they can ravish our planet, exploit its resources, pollute the earth, water and air, and insist there are no consequences.
  • "Blessed are the bigoted and narrowminded, for they spread prejudice and xenophobia against anything they do not know or do not understand and what they lack in self doubt they make up in self righteousness.
  • "Blessed are the ruthless and selfish, for they keep social expenses, the infrastructure investments and especially their own taxes very low.
  • "Blessed are those of the crooked hearts, for they love to deny that love is love and denigrate anyone with different orientation or lifestyle.
  • "Blessed are those who wage wars or launch killing drones, for they always claim that justice is on their side and all is done to protect the innocent lives.
  • "Blessed are those who approve and condone torture, for they can experience that sweet power over other people which is so cherished by daemons of night.
  • "Blessed are you when people celebrate you and envy you and fear you for all your success, wealth, prosperity and abuse of power. Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they looked up to, envied and feared the Pharaoh of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Herod the Great, Augustus of Rome and all the dictators and tyrants of history up until now!

It is not surprising that Erasmus of Rotterdam (as diligent editor of ancient texts as he was) gave us not only the first early modern edition of the Greek New Testament but also this new fragment from the Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers.

The Praise of Folly with Hans Holbein's marginal illustrations 


2015/01/21

No laughing matter!

Here is a joke from a long ago:
    A man was reported to have said in a pub: “Milos is an incompetent imbecile!” At the police station he attempted to defend himself: “No, comrade officer, I did not mean our respected party chairman, but some other Milos!”
“Just don’t try this on me! Did you say ‘incompetent imbecile’? You certainly meant our party leader!”
(Miloš Jakeš was the last totalitarian Communist Party Leader in my homeland and known for dull mind and strange guffs.)
    I know that this joke has been around for quite a while and was told about a number of different politicians and with slightly different insinuations, but it so nicely captures the reality of totalitarian regimes.
    I grew up under the totalitarian regime of Eastern Block Communism. Humor, satire, jokes, parody, irreverence... these were our best tools to preserve sanity under the absurd and often brutal ideological regime. And the regime perceived even the smallest jokes as acts of ideological sabotage and suppressed them accordingly, that meant with violence. People literally went to prisons for sharing jokes. My aunt’s academic and professional life was seriously jeopardized because of an alleged college prank with political overtones.
    Humor is an important, vital tool of a healthy personal and societal life. I know that there are irreverent, offensive, off-color and utterly distasteful jokes. Yet, if there are any institutions, realities or persons who are a priori off the limits for humor or jokes, I insist, it is an indication of a major problem. And this applies also to the realm of religion. Humor, satire, jokes and general irreverence are vital tools of a healthy faith.
    A religion which takes itself too seriously so that it cannot stand humor has a serious problem. The Bible itself is full of puns, jokes and satire! If anything becomes beyond criticism or satire than we know we are dealing with an arrogant idolatry! I find the maxim of Gideon’s father Joash very appealing. It would go something like this: If this or that deity was so grievously offended and hurt (by irreverent acts), let that deity punish the perpetrator, not the deity’s followers! And you can indeed find this radical principle in the Bible (Judges 6:31).
    In year 1511 Erasmus of Rotterdam published his satirical essay The Praise of Folly. This preeminent scholar of renaissance humanism adopted for himself the well-defined role of court jester to poke fun at superstitious, dim-witted medieval Christianity. Erasmus in the form of personified Folly took the pulpit and made a hilarious and simultaneously serious presentation. Here is just a short paragraph of Folly’s peroration:
    And I was recently present myself (as I often am - {mind you Folly is speaking O.S.}) at a theological debate where someone asked what authority there was in Scriptures for ordering heretics to be burned instead of refuted in argument. A grim old man, whose self-importance made it clear he was a theologian, answered in some irritation that the apostle Paul had laid down this rule saying “A man who is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject [devita]”,and he went on thundering out this quotation again and again while most of those present wondered what had happened to him. At last he explained that the heretic was to be removed from life [de vita]. Some laughed, though there were plenty of others who found this explanation worthy of a true theologian. When several still expressed some objections, he declared with irrefutable authority: “Pay attention. It is written that thou shalt not let the evildoer live. Every heretic is an evildoer, therefore, etc.” The entire audience marveled at the man’s reasoning power ...
    Actually, it is not funny that it remains funny even five hundred years later. I certainly met such “theologians” who were using similar syllogistic arguments. Some aggressors still use religion to justify their blood-thirst, and our politicians, not that long ago, referred to evildoers with similar grizzly intentions, don't you remember GWB? You see, humour is serious stuff and no laughing matter! ;-)


Why have I appeared today in this unaccustomed garb? Well, you shall hear the reason if you have no objection to lending me your ears - no, not the ones you use for preachers of sermons, but the ears you usually prick up for mountebanks, clowns, and fools, the sort of ears that once upon a time our friend Midas listened with to Pan.