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."

2020/03/19

Fragrance of divine love

On the south slopes of Mauna Loa, in the place appropriately called Wood Valley is this beautiful old Buddhist Temple surrounded with verdant tropical forest.
            We love to visit this little colorful temple. Once we even stayed there for few days in a room where the Dalai Lama slept several months earlier. We love to visit Marya and Michal, the soft and kind spoken temple keepers. We love to visit it for its unique atmosphere. For me that atmosphere is shaped by a mild yet deep whiff of incense. You can hardly recognize it directly in the air, but every piece of wood breathes out that ages old scent of prayers.
            Indeed, there is something to be said about fragrant worship! For starters it is a subliminal reminder that faith and worship is about more than just intellect. The Bible also takes incense burning for granted in both the Old Testament as well as the New one.
            AIR will be our theme this Sunday, and incense makes air visible and deeply sensual. Join us this Sunday, in this time of fear and anxiety, in a time of pandemic, join us again through our livestreamed video (https://livestream.com/rutgerschurchnyc) to worship with us, seeking together calm and hope.
            And if you want to actively participate, prepare a stick of incense of your choice, or a scented candle or just any candle as we seek reassurance of loving fragrant divine breath.

2020/03/12

Eternal Flame

The Ancient Greeks had very special and peculiar customs around fire. (For instance the Olympic flame could be an example with which modern people can be familiar.)  
       Those customs were controlled by a powerful goddess Hestia. She was a divine patroness of family and city hearths. She might be mentioned in hardly any mythology, and thus quite obscure, but she was venerated by every Greek family and city.
        An important part of her veneration was keeping her fire pure and ever-burning. Keeping family and city fires was not a chore it was an important religious duty and important cult. No foreign fire was allowed. And when family was moving or when the city was starting a daughter colony they would take the original fire with them.
       The Biblical ancestors did not venerate Hestia, they did not need to. YHWH/Adonai/the Lord - our God was also closely associated with fire. And the Bible contains a number of hints of similar practices like we know from Greece (or other cultures).
       When Abraham went for his infamous sacrifice in the land of Moria he took not only his son, and a knife, not only wood but also fire from his home (Genesis 21). And later when rough priests tried to introduce some foreign fire to the YHWH cult they were severely and exemplarily punished. (Lev 10)
       This Sunday we will concentrate on the positive aspect of fire in our faith tradition. Join us this Sunday when we discern and rejoice in the miracle and mystery of a divine eternal flame.  

Because of the viral pandemic our worship will be broadcast from our sanctuary over the internet.
And here is the link to our video-streaming webpage: https://livestream.com/rutgerschurchnyc.
March 15 worship bulletin is here while hymns are here.

2020/02/27

Divine potter

In Ancient Egypt, one of the oldest deities (as old as five thousand years ago) was a god Khnum (In Egyptian iconography he was portrayed with the head of a ram). Khnum was a patron of the sources of Nile and he also brought the annual floods and with them new clay and thus fertility of the land. But Khnum was also responsible for creating people from the very same clay. He was often depicted shaping humans on the potter’s wheel.
            Why do I mention this ancient Egyptian mytheme? Because it is also present in the Bible and can enrich our faith and inform our life. A number of times we hear about God creating or shaping humans out of clay and breathing into them life (Gen 2:7). Then prophets Isaiah (Isa 45:9) and Jeremiah (Jer 18) assert divine authority over human destiny comparing it to the authority of potter over the clay.
            And even in the New Testament Apostle Paul (2Cor 4:7) will use this same image while writing about us humans as clay pots to which God entrusted safekeeping of the gifts of faith, light and grace.
            I like this pottery image, it connects us with one of the oldest metaphors and with the beginning of our civilization. I love this ancient image because it also reminds us of our connection with earth and all its creatures. 
            This image also goes back to the very roots of the Hebrew language and its vocabulary: the word for earth (as a substance, as clay) - is אֲדָמָה - ADAMAH and it shares the same root with אָדָם - ADAM which is a name of the first human being but also a generic name for all humans.
            In the Hebrew language Adam is phonetically an earthling and thus all of us, humans, are all also earthlings. We are inseparably bound with earth, its soil and all its creatures. This is one of the oldest religious insights, something you might not know about the Bible and something we will embrace and celebrate this upcoming Sunday.

2020/02/14

Living, evolving God

In the Bible God is often called “Living God” in Hebrew 'elōhîm chaiyîm, 'elōhîm chai, or 'ēl chai once or twice even as chai yhvh. That is an interesting epithet. Behind it is the belief that God is not only a source of life, but also sustainer of life.
            But there might be more to it, the “Living God” remains a surprising, puzzling expression.  You might say that it is just a metaphor, a comparison, but even so - the main characteristic of the “living” is the ability to change with circumstances, the ability to change, respond, adapt and evolve.
            Thus the Living God is by definition a God who is changing in response to circumstances.
The Living God is by definition the Evolving God. That is the difference between God of stiff fundamentalists who characterize God as omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal and unchanging. In fact it is even worse than a piece of stone because even granite changes over time.
            But the Biblical God, is NOT such a dogmatic monster. God of our faith is the living God. Living God in the relationship with the living world. God is reacting, adapting, changing, evolving.
            Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Charles Darwin and his discovery of evolution -
this fundamental principle of life. Join us this Evolution Sunday as we celebrate the miracle of our living, breathing evolving world and our living, co-evolving God.

2020/01/30

True Cyrus

Cyrus' Babylonian Cylinder
How could a major biblical prophet call a pagan emperor the Messiah?!
      Well, that is exactly what the prophet Isaiah did (Isa 45:1) when he called Persian Emperor Cyrus the Messiah (הַמָּשִׁ֧יחַ -- the anointed one) of the LORD.
      As strange as it might sound, Isaiah had a good reason for it and it was not only the liberation of the Judeans captives from the Babylonian exile and Cyrus’ decree allowing them to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. Many other nations and peoples also recognized and welcomed this benevolent nature of the Persian rule.
      The Persian ethos was summed up by the Greek historian Herodotus (The Histories 1.136.2a) when he wrote that Persians taught their youth these three things: "To ride well, to shoot straight and to speak the truth." It might sound militaristic but it was certainly more than that, it was in essence more tolerant and cosmopolitan. 
        Join us on this Scout Sunday when we will discern how this triad corresponded with border Persian religious and cultural tolerance and made Isaiah call Cyrus the anointed one of the LORD.
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- And for those who read this far, here is a podcast about an almost identical theme - "I am the chosen one".
-- Another podcast about religious and spiritual influence of Persian religion over Judaism and Christianity - Persia in Jewish/Christian religion. 
--- And for instance here is an older column about Jewish Temple in Elephantine in Egypt which stood and was rebuilt/restored during the Persian period - Jewish Temples.

2020/01/16

Gathered to ancestors

When I was a little child, my maternal grandmother Emilie would often take us children for a walk in the cemetery. I hated it ... until I learned that she had lost her mother early on in her life. Then I understood.
            Later I studied theology and eventually received a doctorate in anthropology. And now I visit cemeteries on my own. In any place I live or go, I also try to visit local cemetery. Archeologists famously like to dig burials, but you can learn so much even without breaking the ground! Cemeteries are such a rich resource to learn about the living, about their culture, languages, and their society, about their struggles, their religion, their piety, their values, their lives. Sometimes it is inspiring and sometimes it is profoundly sad.
            When I moved to NYC, I discovered an impressive cemetery in New Jersey, very nicely laid up in an impressive grand scale design. It is called George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus. It was founded in the 1930s and for decades it was operated and strictly enforced as a white only place. This designation was changed only in 1958 after a human rights lawsuit. What a horrendously sad testament about suburban racism!
            But thankfully there are also happier cemeteries founded in and shaped by true and deep Christian faith. I caught a glimpse of it this Christmas in Bethlehem PA. In their God’s Acre - the oldest cemetery in the town - the ancestors of any race rest together side by side. That is for me a dream, a vision and an example showing us through the testament of a cemetery what a true community of faith can be and do!
            Join us this Martin Luther King Sunday when we remember and celebrate an inclusive community of God’s children.

2020/01/10

The Word of God?

This is the Bible I inherited from my paternal grandfather Rev. Emil Stehlik.



It was translated from the original languages and published in MDLXXXVII (1587) clandestinely by Unitas Fratrum (Moravian Church).


It survived the period of harsh contrareformation (1621 - 1781) and while in hiding the title page and several pages of the foreword were damaged and painstakingly redrawn and rewritten.



It is a study bible. It has substantial critical textual apparatus, translation notes and well chosen cross-references. And my ancestors used it for their bible study - there is substantial underlying and even written notes by several hands.


      It is only the volume four of a six volume set - this one contains the prophetic books and when I preach on Isaiah or Habakuk I still sometimes look into it for exegetical insights of my ancestors (they can be illuminating).
      This family Bible is our great treasure, in its form and shape is preserved an uneasy history of my ancestors but also their theological heritage - heritage of theological thinking and seeking. They clearly treasured their bibles, hiding them from confiscations, hiding them for diligent study. But as valuable as the bible can be, it is NOT the Word of God. Any bible only points towards the true Word of God, which became flesh. And that would be the theme of our worship this Sunday - the preexistent divine LOGOS which became flesh and is shaping nd reshaping the universe through light and life.