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."


Organic Spirituality

    Last Friday was a rainy day and I received a special gift.  On my balcony in three small boxes I grow taro plants. I love taro’s heart-shaped leaves gently waving and quivering in every slightest breeze. And when it rains or drizzles, raindrops adorn my taro’s leaves with strings of shiny pearls and sparkling diamonds.
    If you pay attention you can spot taro quite often in NYC planted here and there for its decorative properties. (There is a large planter in front of a grocery store just across from the Holy Name of Jesus RC Church on Amsterdam Ave.) I personally got enchanted by this plant several years ago when visiting a picturesque Hanalei valley in the island of Kauai.     
    Later I learned that taro (or Kalo, as it is called in Hawaii) has a deep spiritual significance for the people who grow it. Deep in the Hawaiian creation story kalo is an older sibling of the humankind. Kalo, as an older brother, is feeding people while people, as younger siblings, are responsible for caring and cultivating kalo. Kalo and people are together children of the Land and they are bound together by the deep mutual love and obligations.
    The natural and religious duties transcend individual lives. Just as kalo tuber is harvested, the plant lives on through its replanted stalks, so the people live on through their offspring, and thus carry on the god-given duty of love and care for one another and for the land.
    This is just the roughest abbreviation of this beautiful and meaningful myth. Yet the study of this distant myth made me aware of some surprising biblical parallels, stories and metaphors, which also intertwine divine, human and plant realms. Come this Sunday as we continue our search for new spirituality by re-connecting our faith with plants. 



Solar Eclipse 2017

This is a cuneiform text and transliteration of the first recorded total solar eclipse. It was observed in Ugarit, an ancient city on the northeast Mediterranean shore and it took place in early afternoon on the first day of month Ḫiyaru with planet Mars in conjunction. Thus we know it took place on what we would call the 5th of March, 1223 BCE at about 13:20 local time. I wrote a little more about it earlier on this blog. 

Now we are in luck! There will be another solar eclipse visible over North America on the 21st of August.

Unfortunately NYC will not be in the path of totality, yet the Sun will be almost 72% eclipsed which itself will be a spectacular celestial event. The sky will substantially darken and the Sun, covered by the Moon, will look like a crescent. BUT DON’T LOOK EVEN INTO THE ECLIPSING SUN UNLESS YOU HAVE PROPER EYE PROTECTION! Normal sunglasses do not provide sufficient protection; also do not use exposed films, CD and DVD discs or similar DIY contraptions.
    For safe observation of the Sun you need either proper sun-gazing glasses, professional filters or high grade electric welding shields. As spectacular as the solar eclipse might be, you do not want to fry your eyes and thus seriously and permanently harm your eyesight!
    An excellent and easy option is to make your own pinhole camera - make a small hole in the center of a larger size cardboard and cast a shadow on a flat white surface. Then you can observe the projection in the middle of the shadow. (Never look through that pinhole directly at the sun!). ALWAYS SUPERVISE CHILDREN TO ENSURE THEY ARE NOT LOOKING AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER PROTECTION.  Here are some further safety tips from NASA: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety
    I made measurements for our church’s roof garden (coordinates 40.77950N and 73.98231W). The disk of the moon will make the first contact with the Sun on Monday, August 21st at 17:23:14.7 Coordinated Universal Time (which is 1:23pm Eastern Summer Time), the maximum eclipse will arrive at 18:44:54.4 UTC (2:44pm EST) and the eclipse will end at 20:00:36.9 UTC (4:00 EST). 
    Plan, prepare and enjoy! If you have any questions, contact pastor Andrew. astehlik(a)rutgerschurch.org


Biblical Emojis

This Sunday we will encounter biblical emojis. If you not know this word - emojis are those small pictograms used in emails, text messages, Facebook and other social media. Predominantly they are used to express, communicate and share emotions. Interestingly, many emojis use different depiction of faces.
    This Sunday, in our Summer search for new spirituality, we will attempt to reconnect our faith with our bodies and our emotions. In that endeavor, the "biblical emojis" can offer us helpful insights.
    Of course, don’t look in the Bible for cellphones, tablets or other electronic gadgets. They did not have those little colorful pictures either. But what they had were special colorful and meaningful words which were as good as emojis.
    Take for instance biblical Greek word for anger - ORGĒ. Its original literal meaning was up-welling or swelling just like the emoji of an angry red face.
    A different Greek word for anger was THYMOS and it originally meant heavy breathing, steaming or puffing (with anger), just like the emoji with a steamy nose.
    On the other hand the Greek word for patience, MAKROTHYMIA, can be literally translated as long breath.
     Indeed, our emotions are one of the oldest and deepest structures of our psyche connected intimately with our bodies. Purely rational control of our emotions is only marginally successful. Often the most efficient way of understanding, cherishing as well as cultivating our emotions is by reconnecting them with our bodies and controlling them through moderating our bodies’ reactions - for instance one can remember countering rising anger with proverbial few deep breaths.
    Come this Sunday, when we will search for even deeper and more profound biblical "emoji words" from the treasure throw of biblical Hebrew helping us in reconnecting our faith with our bodies and our emotions.



Fragrant Memories

A few weeks ago, as part of my study of American religiosity, I visited the Shaker Village in Hancock, just across the boarder between Upstate and Massachusetts. The true Shakers had been gone for generations, but local enthusiasts and sympathizers keep the memory of this interesting American protestant commune alive. Now it is a living museum with a small working farm and ongoing practice of traditional shaker crafts.
    The first building which I entered was a wood workshop. I stepped in and the smell of that place arouse in me a strikingly vivid memory of my grandfather’s woodshed. It must have been some specific combination of drying and aging woods. It was as if I was suddenly transported across thousands of miles and a number of decades in time to the time when my grandfather taught me how to split wood.
    That is the magic of our human olfactory memory. I think I can speak for almost everyone when I say that we all have had such flashbacks triggered by a smell of freshly cut grass, pealed apple or some other fruit, or just a gust of a salty air. Almost any specific smell can suddenly and surprisingly bring forward vivid memories to us. And unless we are professional taste tasters, we would have a hard time putting into words those  special smells. Similarly we might have difficulties actively recalling memorable smells. We need to wait until our memory is triggered and then we are surprised with vivid, almost palpable memories which go far beyond just smell.
    Olfactory memories are clearly more direct, vivid and elemental than words, sounds or sights. Come this Sunday as we continue our search for post-cartesian spirituality –  integrating, uniting and rejoining body and spirit, our physical and spiritual selves. We will rejoice in the often overlooked, forgotten or neglected fragrant and tangible spirituality at the center of our faith. 


Scary Theater

The original illustration from Descartes' Treatise on Man
This Sunday I would like to take you to a special and and also somehow scary place. It is called Cartesian Theater after René Descartes (Renatus Carteius in Latin). Yes, it is that french philosopher famous for postulating Cogito ergo sum - "I think, therefore I am."
    Cartesian Theater is a modern name for an important part of Descartes’ philosophy just as Plato’s Cave is important part of his. The Cartesian Theater was supposed to be a place of interaction between the immaterial, intelligent soul and the physical body. Senses were picking up perceptions and transmitting them along the nerves to a place in the brain where they were presented to the soul. The immaterial intelligent soul then analyzed these inputs, made freewill decisions and sent neural commands back to the body. The Cartesian Theater was supposed to be an essential function of a brain mediating between these two realms, spiritual and physical.
    This radical body-mind dualism had major and far reaching consequences. It demisticized, secularized, even desecrated the world. The only mystical and sacred element in existence (beside God) was the intelligent human soul. Anything and everything else in the world was just secular “stuff” fully available for rational, scientific study. This worldview greatly accelerated the development of the modern science and modern technology.
    But this radical body-mind dualism also led to an alienation of the mind from the body and alienation of reason from emotions. Most importantly it led to the alienation of humans from the rest of nature. Inevitably, the human intelligent mind (often quite narrowminded) became the measure of everything. This secular worldview greatly contributed to our modern ecological crisis. The Cartesian Theater morphed into a scary haunted castle of human hubris.
     This Sunday and all the following summer Sundays in a special worship series we will seek to heal our alienation and modern self-centeredness. Come this Sunday to be assured from the fountains of our faith that we are more than thinking machines. Come this Sunday to rejoice in the spiritual wholeness growing up from the deep roots of our faith tradition.

And for those who read this far:
René Descartes situated the interface between a soul and a body to the pineal gland. Of course, it is not its true physiological function. But even if we take the soul-body interface not anatomically, but instead metaphorically, there is a remaining logical problem. In this picture a person fries an egg and every new inner observer creates a new need for a next and deeper interface - ad infinitum et ad nauseam. This was most clearly pointed out by the American philosopher Daniel Dennett.


Rat Party

We are pleased to report a new and exciting discovery of another fragment of the Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers. The discovery was made yesterday by a small yet brave group of archeologists from Rutgers Church who undertook an expedition to Columbus Circle. Right behind the southwestern gate of Central Park they unearthed another lost story from this forgotten Gospel. Here is our attempt at a translation to modern English:

After crossing the sea they arrived to the country of NewYorkeenes. And as Jesus stepped from the boat, right beneath those tall buildings, they were met by a man who suffered greatly, tormented by unclean spirits.
    That man often slept half-collapsed on subway benches, was seen pushing a shopping cart full of smelly stuff, and was heard screaming and screeching in the parks. Many times they tried to help him in hospital emergency rooms around the city. Nurses bathed him, civilized him and he started to receive a proper medical care. But just as he was on the mend, the demons would return with vengeance, depriving him of proper medical care and driving him out of hospitals against any medical advice. It seemed no one had control over this situation.
    And this man, when he saw Jesus from a distance, ran to him, bowed to him, and said, “Why do you even bother with me, Most Holy One?”  Jesus immediately knew that the man was tormented by a serious demon and asked for identity, “What is your name, you demon, who torments this man?” And the demon answered: “Our name is Grand Old Party, for we are many.” And they begged Jesus not to send them out and away from their high-rise towers, seaside manors, golf courses and other possessions.  
    Enlightened by divine wisdom, Jesus immediately saw one fitting solution how they could stay close to their petty earthly possessions - he sent them to the ubiquitous rats. And although normal rats are quite clever to avoid plain traps and baits, now, as soon as this party of greedy demons entered into the rats, in their greed they started to stuff themselves with piles of poison. That was the end of them and the man was finally happy and free.
    But you probably know how it goes... Many people in that country also loved their possessions more than they loved their neighbors. They were uneasy about this outcome; some were offended, some were even frightened. They asked Jesus to leave them alone and shortly afterwards they had an even grander, even older demon party going. But the healed man stood behind and kept reminding everyone that greed kills while divine compassion heals.

     Of course the authenticity of the discovered fragment is seriously disputed, there are many indications of this text being a late forgery. Nevertheless, some progressive scholars are convinced that this newly discovered fragment can help illuminate certain, often misunderstood, aspects of an authentic Gospel story (Mark 5:1-19 and Synoptic parallels).
     Some of the insights can include, for instance: that the afflicted person could be a personification of a broader population; that the demonism and the name of demon(s) could have a biting political implication; and that different manifestations of demonism could correspond to reality and hardships of daily lives of common people. Be it as it may, we found this story worth sharing. 

Re. Laura Jervis talking at the Health Care Vigil


Visit Paradise

South and North Rivers
Do you know that there is a true Paradise just north of the New York City limits, only a few minutes away from where you live?
     “Paradise” is a loanword through classical languages from the old Iranian expression Paridayda which literally means “a walled enclosure/garden”. From the ancient of times Iranians were planting famous and beautiful gardens, their palaces were unthinkable without them. Persian gardens were so famous, that they inspired description of the biblical garden of Eden. Persian gardens also featured four axial rivers with a confluence and springs at the center of each side. Persian emperors were known to personally garden and their gardens were a training ground and model for the care for their lands. What a meaningful metaphor for those in political power. If only those in power today learned their sense of diligence, wisdom and responsibility from gardening!
East Spring with East and West Rivers
the Temple of Sky behind them.
  As New Yorkers you can visit a delightful recreation of Paradise (an old formal Persian garden) any weekend. It was planted in Yonkers in the early XX century by the famous NYC lawyer, philanthropist and horticulturist Samuel Untermyer. Thanks to his vision and generosity, you can visit Paradise, stroll by axial rivers, rest in the shade of trees, arcades, porticoes and pergolas, visit with plants, flowers and trees and wonder which one might be the one of life and which one proffers knowledge. Perhaps all of them offer insight in some way and form.
     On this Trinity Sunday we will rejoice in the story of the Garden of Eden and seek inspiration for our individual and communal living, what it means to live in the divine garden and to receive a charge to till it and guard it.