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."


Divine pyromaniac

Is it possible that our God is a pyromaniac?
   Well there certainly are some strong indications. When you read the Bible, you can hardly escape the impression that our Judeo-Chirstian God has a special weakness for fire. So many divine revelations and pivotal moments are accompanied with fiery displays.
    Moses is called at the burning bush. Judge Gideon, a charismatic leader, is called by an angel with a fiery show, in a similar manner the birth of Samson, another charismatic freedom fighter, is accompanied also with a flame display. And in the New Testament, the Church is called into existence with a flame show.
    There could be many other examples of theophanies (divine appearances) accompanied by or associated with fire, here I have picked only a few instances of people being called to the divine ministry of deliverance and justice. This call to promote justice is the other and even more important aspect of the divine pyromania, not only a mere presence of fire, but the use of fire as a symbol of freedom, liberation and justice - and this fire burns, but is not consumed or exhausted, it burns in prophets’ bones until the tasks are finished.
    So here you have it - God certainly resembles a pyromaniac of freedom and Pentecost is a marvelous holiday to be reminded of it. And unlike so much old-age Christian theologizing which would like to reserve the Holy Spirit only for the New Testament and domesticate her only for Christian circles - the true divine flame shines brightly in the Hebrew Bible and burns powerfully within as well as without pious enclaves - everywhere where justice and freedom are sought and striven for. This Pentecost we will see how fiery divine Spirit called, inspired and empowered Gideon.

On the accompanying picture above is YanartaƟ (Flaming Rock) in Turkey - in ancient times called Mount Chimera. Natural gas comes all the way to the surface and burns with bright flame. A similar, although smaller, geological wonder can be found right in NY State just south of Buffalo where natural gas from a shale formation comes to surface and burns in a small cave right behind a waterfall (two pictures below). There has never been any doubt that there is a high volume of natural gas under large parts of NYS. I prefer seeing or even protecting these small geological wonders before the countryside devastated by fracking and danger of a runaway global warming. These little natural flames should continue to burn, but the brunt of fossil fuels must stay in ground to prevent irreparable damage to our environment! Thankfully NYS recently banned fracking, but elsewhere it is allowed continues destruction of environment and CO2 pollution of the global atmosphere.


Be Bee Loving

    Bees indeed deserve our love and admiration. My sister is a small yet ardent beekeeper and she can go on and on about the miracles and sublime beauties of bees. Each beehive is a small social microcosm, each beehive has a personality and interacts with outside world and other creatures. Bees can sense people’s attitudes and emotions. A stressed and angry beekeeper leads to stressed and angry beehives, and a happy and calm keeper makes happy and calm bees and as result, also more of the sweet, amber, glowing honey.
    Bees indeed deserve our admiration and love, not only because of the sweetness of their honey but for their role across nature as pollinators. Bees are essential for about 70% of our food and for the pollination of all wild plants and trees. Especially in this function bees are in desperate need of every fan and supporter. They need and deserve our love and protection as their numbers have been in catastrophic decline in recent years.
    This rapid decline among bees has been shared by butterflies and other pollinators - haven’t you noticed that there are fewer butterflies than there used to be? Among the bees it was called a sudden colony collapse and experts were scratching their heads. It is not a mystery any longer. There are many contributing factors, but the root cause seems to be new agro-business technologies called systemic pesticides (called
Neonicotinoid) and GMO plants which produce pesticides themselves.
    These systemic pesticides you cannot wash off of the surfaces of your vegetables. These pesticides are permeating plants like water permeates a wet sponge. They are in the roots, leaves, stalks and fruits to protect them from nibbling insects. But they are also in the flowers, nectar and even in dewdrops on the leaves. Systemic pesticides are now used even in the flowers we buy from florists and in plants from garden centers!   

  Agro-industrialists and federal regulators (speaking from within the agro-industialists large and deep pockets) are all loudly swearing that all of this is absolutely harmless for humans. If you wish, you can trust them, but it is clearly not harmless for the bees and butterflies. When you go shopping, consider buying Organic and Non-GMO food and ask your florist about flowers and plants without systemic pesticides. Bees indeed deserve our love, admiration, protection and care. Be bee loving!
    All this was prompted when I researched the biblical image of bees and honey for this coming Sunday. This Sunday is called Ascension Sunday and it is about Jesus’ departure to heaven 40 days after Easter. We will interconnect this mythic metaphor with a another image of the sweet and deep image of Divine Apiary.
(By the way, have you noticed that in English, we do not “own” bees, we “keep” them as their stewards and protectors).


Canine Exegesis

Shortly after our sons were born we brought home Jessie - our diehard Scottish Terrier. She literally grew up with our sons. From the time they were young they loved to be together, they pulling her ears and tail, she pulling them on her leash. Soon Jessie showed particular partiality towards our sons especially around our dining table sitting faithfully right beneath their chairs. It was not difficult to spy out the reason. Our boys were never big eaters and were not particularly careful with their spoons and forks. They were literally sharing their meals with Jessie. It probably started in full innocence, but undoubtedly there were times when they did it on purpose, especially if they did not like a particular dish. And Jessie simply acted out the common Czech nickname of her breed - Black Dry Mop. She faithfully did the first cleaning under our kitchen table for all her sixteen years. Of course the boys stopped dropping food well before they were sixteen or fifteen, but in the kitchen of even the most careful cook (an I am not one of them) there are always some crumbs to be found by a diligent dog. Thus with our Jessie I gained my first-hand experience and exegetical insight into the famous biblical passage about children, crumbs and dogs under tables. This keen biblical observation and its broader story will lead us this Sunday in our celebration of motherly love as well as the direct divine lesson in overcoming prejudice and expanding our circle of love. Come to be inspired by the divine willingness to change and love.


And her is an Ancient Syrian, Ugaritic, reference of feeding dogs under divine tables. 

Myth about El's Banquet and the cure of hangover
KTU 1.114
In his house El gave a feast of game,
the produce of the hunt in the midst of his palace.
He cried:
To the carving, gods!
Eat, O gods, and drink!
Drink wine until satiety,
foaming wine until inebriety!

Yarich arched his back like a dog,
he gathered up crumbs beneath the tables.
Any god who recognized him,
threw him meat from the joint.
But any god who didn’t recognized him
hit him with a stick beneath the table.
At the call of Athtart and Anat he approached.
Athtart threw him a haunch,
and Anat a shoulder of meat.
The porter of El’s house shouted: Look!
Why have you throw a haunch to the dog,
why to the cur have you thrown a shoulder?
He shouted at El his father.
    El Summoned his drinking companions,
    El took his seat in his feasting house.
    He drank wine to satiety,
    new wine until inebriety.

El went off to his house,
he stumbled off towards his dwelling,
Thukanum and Shanim supported him.
A creeping monster approached him,
with horns and tail.
    He floundered in his own feaces and urine,
    El fell down as though dead,
    El was like those who go down into the underworld.
Anat and Athtart went out hunting
Athtart and Anat returned
they brought back meat
When they cured him, he awoke.
This is what needs to be put on his forehead: dog-hair, and the knot of vine and its juice. They should be applied together with virgin olive oil.


Apotropaic Seal of Love

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    passion as fierce as the netherworld.

One more Sunday (at least for a while ;-) we will listen to the exquisite Hebrew love poetry of the Song of Songs. As I went looking for some nice examples of cylinder seals to illustrate the first two lines of this poem, I came across this one from a recent exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum.
On the left side is a small semiprecious cylinder stone (smaller than an inch) with a delicate  ancient engraving and on the right side is its modern impression in fine clay. Ancient people wore these seals on strings around their necks or wrists. They used them in place of a signature. Archeologists found hundreds and thousands of these all over the Ancient Near East.
    This particular one is from Assyrian Babylonia and is quite interesting. It is engraved with a scene showing a hero fighting with a lion over a calf. One is immediately reminded for instance of the Herculean Labors or, from our Biblical tradition, Samson or David fighting with lions. You see, no religion is an island! (To paraphrase old saying). Current religions would not be here without their ancient roots and no violence against ancient artifacts (which we now observe in the Islamic State) is going to change it. (And don’t be mistaken - it is not only about Islamic fanatics; violent religious nuts among Christians and Jews had and retain similar iconoclastic tendencies of suppressing inconvenient history!) 
    There is one more interesting feature in this seal which makes it a marvelous illustration for our text from the Song of Songs. Some time after the seal was made, a cuneiform inscription was written on it. The text reads “Belonging to Mabu-nadin-shumi, son of Ashur, may god Nabu grant him life!” This seal clearly had double function - it was also an amulet. This Sunday we will rejoice in this apotropaic (evil-averting), protective, function of the seal of love.


As Strong as Death

This Lent and Easter we have been reading the Song of Songs - a marvelous book of biblical love poetry. In its last chapter we read: “Love is as strong as death and the love’s passion is as fierce as the netherworld.”
    Unfortunately, many biblical commentators feel an urge to write something like: “please note, that ‘love is as strong as death, but it is not stronger!’” They are clearly under some evil spell of fossilized Judeo-Christian dogma (only God or Jesus are allowed to be stronger than death). They show their elemental prejudiced misunderstanding.
    Firstly, we know that love in the Song of Songs, just as any true love, is a force inseparable from divine love. And secondly, within the Ancient Near Eastern linguistic as well as mythological context “Love being as strong as death” points clearly in the direction of courage and hope in ultimate victory of love or forces of love. *)
    There is also a rhetorical reason why love is "only" as strong as death. Love is as strong as death - to keep the dramatic suspension open. Love is as strong as death - to encourage us to take sides. Love is as strong as death - so that we support and root for love. Love is as strong as death - to pull us in this life embracing story, to invite us to love and thus participate in this ultimate struggle and victory of love.
    We all know to hope in the auspicious final outcome, but nothing is certain until the last moment. Come this Easter Sunday to rejoice in it. Indeed, love is as strong as death....

*) For example here is a short quotation from the Ugaritic myth about the fight of Baal (divine patron of fertility/prosperity) with Mot (Semitic god of death). KTU 1.6.vi.16-22  and 33-35
They glowered at each other like burning coals.

Mot was strong,
Baal was strong. 
They gored (each other) like wild bulls.

Mot was strong,
Baal was strong.
They bit (each other) like snakes.

Mot was strong,
Baal was strong. 
They tugged (each other) like hunting dogs.

Mot fell.
Ball fell on top of him

at this moment goddess of sun, Shapash, intervenes and finally: 
Mot lifted up his voice and cried:
Let Baal be installed on the throne of his kingship,
on the seat in control of his dominion.    


NYC Pilgrimage

Shortly after we moved to NYC we made a pilgrimage to visit my childhood idol.
    One rainy Saturday in early spring we took the subway to Time Square. In just two short blocks to the New York Public Library, what could possibly go wrong? On the first corner, both of our umbrellas were torn to pieces. We were indeed NYC’s newlings and never heard about Manhattan grade umbrellas. Thankfully the library's side entrance was open. Soon I was standing face to face with my idol. I finally met with Winnie the Pooh and most of his other friends and relations. It is true, I was dripping wet, and my idol looked also somehow worn out, beaten up and shabby. But outer appearances truly do not matter, not even in the slightest, when you make a pilgrimage.
    I still remember my father reading to me and my sister at bed times all those enchanting stories from 100 Aker Wood, and of course, later myself, reading those stories to my sons. I vividly remember one evening almost catching Wizzle and two Woozles and another time discussing the merits of expotitions to the East and West Poles (after North and South have been already discovered).
    For me, it was a meaningful and moving, almost eye-misty, pilgrimage while my practical wife Martina went to buy a new NYPL Lion umbrella in the library store. (Manhattan grade - we still have it.) On our way to pick up our coats at the side exit, I noticed the library marble stairs being worn off, in places almost by an inch. Just imagine hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of feet walking up to this temple of knowledge, making their pilgrimage, eager to read, to learn, to discover, or for sentimental reasons as I did. Indeed, there are many different pilgrimages. This Palm Sunday we will remember and talk about pilgrimages, religious and spiritual, personal and collective. As we continue reading from the Song of Songs we will especially talk about pilgrimages of love.

The Christopher Robin Moment of my son when he was about three on the morning after we moved to our first manse.


Fragrant Medicine

How do you recognize a presence of a demon?
By stench, of course! -  Ancient people were quite clear about it.
They had good reasons for this informed guess, bad smell and decay go hand in hand.
While, on the other hand, a clean fresh fragrant breeze heralds well being and health.
And that was also their way of dealing with bad smelling demons. They fended them off with incense and perfumes. Most exotic and potent fragrances and perfumes were reserved to protect the most vulnerable aspects of life - religion and love. This Sunday we will hear from the Song of Songs the secrets of the Biblical fragrant potion of love.

  We will also celebrate a great theological and social achievement of our Presbyterian denomination. On Tuesday evening a majority of presbyteries approved the new definition of marriage which now includes the same gender couples. At Rutgers we have been celebrating same gender weddings since our state approved it (in prophetic defiance of the official Presbyterian interpretation) and we have also advocated for this change broadly and loudly in several General Assemblies. Now it becomes reality and we rejoice that the fresh fragrance of openness and caring love is repelling the stench of fundamentalist grudge and prejudice. Come to celebrate this power of fragrant love!