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."

2016/08/24

Magical writing

    As I learned to write in the first grade, almost instantly I put my newly learned skill in practice in one of its oldest, magical and also rather embarrassing ways. By that time, the novelty and charm of school had worn away and fresh, shy and well-behaved first-graders inevitably reverted to their natural selves and tested the nerves of our patient and longsuffering teacher. On one such hectic day during a short brake between the afternoon classes we amused ourselves by throwing at each other a blackboard sponge dripping with water. All the boys in our class gleefully took part in this skirmish, even some girls joined in, but only I and two of my best friends ended up with extra homework and notes for parents. As was often the case, it must had happened not because we were the fiercest but rather the loudest and most excited participants. (I used to have a very high pitched voice.)  
    Feeling seriously wronged and bitter we regrouped after school in a dark corner behind the gym. Almost no one knew about that place, even the school custodian hardly ever visited that spot. And there, on the wall, we fused our bitterness with our newly acquired skill of writing. In white chalk on a soot-stained bricks we wrote and drew our rather lowbrow opinion about our teacher. It wasn’t intended for anyone’s eyes, but writing it up on the wall made us feel immediately better. Certainly much better than just mumbling it to each other or to our friends.
    Little did we know that we had just reenacted the ancient magical use of writing. As people developed the script and learned to write, the inscribed words were perceived as having greater and higher powers. Thus archeologists find inscriptions and carvings in places where hardly anyone could see them. And an abundance of ancient monumental inscriptions were made while less than one percent of people had the knowledge to read them. These are all examples of the writing magic in action. Deep down in our minds we can still recognize that script retains some of these magical powers even today. Writing, and especially inscriptions, still feel somehow special, longer lasting and more potent.
    This Sunday, in our quest for forgotten religion, we will venture to the times before writing was ever imagined. We will go before religion was ever written down and recorded in scriptures. Of course, religion before writing and before scriptures has a much longer and deeper history than with scriptures! Join us as we discover serious dangers of scripted religion. And rejoice with us in venturing and discovering the charming and surprising realm of unscripted, oral faith.    

(I have never told anyone about that writing incident behind the gym, even this many years later I still feel a little embarrassed. All in all I loved my elementary teacher and I remember her with deep respect and love. When we accidently met fifteen years ago on a sidewalk of my old hometown, it was one of the brightest surprises of that whole year.)

2016/08/17

Lotus Birth

Lotuses and water lilies are surprising and spectacular flowers. They seemingly grow on water and although, after closer inspection, they grow from mud, they nevertheless bring forward pristine blossoms. Lotuses have some of the simplest yet most beautiful flowers. Any time I visit a botanical garden, I am irresistibly pulled towards the lily ponds. Deep down, intuitively, I know why ancient religions chose the lotus – this evocative flower – and why they endowed it with layers of deep meaning.
    In Egypt, the waterlily was a symbol of birth and rebirth. In India, padma (the sacred lotus) is a symbol of purity and spiritual awakening (spiritual birth). In our own biblical tradition we perhaps have the most archaic form of this metaphor. In the Song of Songs, the lover is frequently mentioned as grazing in the garden - however, not among lilies, as traditionally misinterpreted, but on the lotus. As mentioned in theological dictionaries, the lotus is an ancient well known euphemism of love – more precisely, a place of conception and birth.
    This Sunday we continue our quest for forgotten religion and we will look directly at gestation and birth as a powerful religious image. Readings from the Hebrew as well as the Greek Bible will show us that the metaphor of pregnancy and birth has deep, powerful and meaningful religious roots in the birth of the world - its creation and ongoing recreation.

2016/08/11

Surreal Sofa

Last Friday, Martina and I were in Edinburgh enjoying our short summer holidays. That day we visited the Royal Botanical Garden in the morning and then followed the Water of Leith up stream to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art where we enjoyed an exhibition of the XX century Surrealism.
    Outside, on the grounds of the gallery, was perhaps something even better: “Surreal Adventures” an interactive playground for children and adults alike - a playful introduction to surrealism composed of a surreal slide, a leaning refreshment booth with surreal sweets and ice cream, a fallen standing-clock for jumping, a surreal picnic table, and in the corner was a lovely gray Chesterfield sofa.
      You must understand that Edinburghian roasting summer means about 60°F highest day temperature and rain or drizzle twelve times a day. In such a climate a homely, well-worn, leather sofa on a moist green lawn looked indeed puzzling if not outright surreal.
    But it got even better as I took a seat on it, invited by a sign. The sofa wasn’t soggy-wet, it was made of cast concrete. Martina and I both accepted the invitation, sat, and enjoyed our shortbread afternoon snack, resting on the outdoor leather sofa made of gray hard concrete and still incredibly comfy. On the seat between us was a printed message: “Things are not always what they seem.” Indeed! It is so enjoyable, refreshing and stimulating to have our expectations challenged, transformed and transcended.  
    This Sunday, as we continue our series on forgotten religion, we will apply this approach to Isaiah’ scathing polemics against idol-making. Things are not always what they seem! It can be a major adventure to have our eyes, minds and faiths open.

2016/07/27

Forgotten Religion

There is an alternative take on religion, a completely different religious world from what is generally perceived as religion today!
    I realized it as I entered Ke‘ekÅ« Heiau at Kawa Bay of Hawai‘i Island. I tried to visit this open-air worship space for a number of years and had been always prevented by high tides and strong surfs. Now I finally stood by the entrance and it was clearly an active place of worship and also undisputably closed! As I stepped over two crossed wooden poles, I knew I was trespassing! Intellectually, the visit and assessment of the shrine was uneventfully routine, but my guilty conscience triggered in me something deeper. I became painfully aware of an alternative religious paradigm. While my own religion and all modern religions try to pull people into their churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, gurdwaras... there clearly was a type of religiosity, which wanted to keep people out!
    From that April Monday last year I have been brooding over it. I refreshed some of my old academic readings, I searched some new religious and anthropological literature. And I formulated for myself a tentative typology of this old/alternative form of religion: 
  • As mentioned earlier, this is not a missionary but stewardship religion. (In other words its primary goal is not to multiply believers but to safeguard and preserve its essence.)
  • In consequence this is a religion with strong internal, not external validation. (While missionary religions measure themselves by numerical success, this religion aspires for inner faithfulness and integrity.)
  • This religion is in its essence oral over and against textual. (Stories and laws of this religion are passed orally rather than fixated in writing and worshiped as this or that holy scriptures.) 
  • It is a religion of immanent deity instead of transcendent deity. (Put simply: God/s in this religion is present in the world rather than above and beyond it.)
  • It is a religion which concentrates on orthopraxy rather than on orthodoxy. (This religion is not about doctrines and teachings and what to be believed, but it is primarily about how its followers are to live out and practice their religion.)
  • This religion is not anthropocentric but rather ecocentric. (Humans in this religion are not the center of the universe and measure of everything, they are an integral part of the ordered network of existence.)
  • This religion is also primarily about terrestrial rather than celestial salvation. (This religion is about helping people find harmony in this world and this life and not pointing them to heaven and to afterlife.)
  • As result of the previous points the theology of this religion is primarily inclusive over and against exclusive theology of many current religious systems. (Modern religions and confessions antagonize each other based upon minuscule differences in their doctrines.)   
I confess, this is a highly schematic typology. There have hardly ever been these extreme types in their pure form. But I am convinced that all current religions grew up from the old type, and in one form or the other preserved some traces of it. The old style might be largely forgotten, rejected, suppressed, even persecuted against by modern forms of religion - but what I call here the old religious paradigm represents our shared roots. I think that in our times of growing religious antagonism and intolerance, it might be important and spiritually enriching to become aware of it and search for the remnants of our forgotten religion buried deep in the traditions of our own faith.

2016/07/19

A Handwritten Prayer

The study of the Bible and its ancient manuscripts saves me from fundamentalism and religious intolerance. The more we know, the better we are protected against bigotry. Allow me to take you along and show you how I spent Monday afternoon (my day off) this week.
This snippet is from the Sinai Bible, the oldest surviving, almost complete Bible. It was produced, hand written, in early IV century C.E. most likely in Alexandria. In this picture is the text of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Luke (11:2b-4). And here is my working translation of the original text as written by the hand of the first scribe:

    Father,
    Your name be holy!
    Your kingdom come!
    Your will be done as in heaven, thus on earth!
    Our daily bread give us by day!
    And forgive us our sins,
    as even we forgive our debtors!
    And do not turn us in for trial.


    The Gospel of Luke contains a shorter version of Lord’s Prayer while Matthew (6:9-13) has a longer version, and the original Luke version was probably even shorter than what we have in our text. The green field with the text Your will be done as in heaven, thus on earth! is absent from the oldest preserved fragment in the Bodner Papyrus No.75, which predated the Sinai Bible by another century. Most likely this petition was inserted from the Gospel of Matthew or from church liturgy.
    What makes this picture interesting is the great number of manuscript corrections. Blue circles in our picture represent grammatical corrections and textual additions. Red circles and pink fields represent deletions. On the margins of our textual column are also two larger textual inserts. One on the lower right side was later erased (yet, thankfully, still remains readable), and the one on the upper left margin was questioned by a later scribe (by a dot beneath the tilde mark in the text). Both these larger insertions attempted to include a petition deliver us from evil into different places of the prayer and again came as a borrowing from the gospel of Matthew.
    In total, there were at least two, possibly three or more correcting hands (scribes) who made at least twelve changes or corrections of changes in the space of three verses. Think about it: twelve textual variants in this short prayer, twelve! And this is one of the oldest biblical manuscripts and an important source for our biblical translations. Now you know why an honest study of the Bible is the best vaccination against Christian fundamentalism, biblical literalism, claims of the biblical inerrancy and all sorts of religious bigotry.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do not dismiss biblical text or Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. I actually find them greatly fascinating and inspiring. For this reason I invite you to come to worship this Sunday and pray together this deeply meaningful and transformative prayer of our Lord as we seek its true meaning for us today.


-------------------------------------------
And here is the Lord's Prayer as was preserved for us in the Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers:
     Loving God:
     May what you stand for
         be considered Holy.
     May the world be shaped
         as your love will have it:

     Preserve for us and future generations
         enough food for everyone
         with fresh air to breath,
         clean water to drink
         blue planet to inhabit.
     May governments around the world
         institute the Unconditional Basic Income.
     Let police and courts treat people fairly
         regardless of their class, nationality or race.
 

2016/07/13

Art of Quiet

New York City, for its size, has surprisingly clean air.
    Unfortunately we still have serious pollution problems and different than you might expect. Try to spy out any stars at night, for instance. Even on a clear crisp night you might barely catch sight of a few of the brightest stars and count yourself lucky if you can make out a constellation. It is because of NYC light pollution which can be visible from as far as the Catskills. And it is a true pollution problem with real environmental and health impacts. New York is proverbially a city which never sleeps but often I think it is because it has difficulty sleeping in so much artificial polluting light. And it is not a problem only for people; plants and animals are also known to struggle with so much artificial light being disoriented in space and time in consequence.
    Another serious problem is our noise pollution. We are surrounded with the constant clang of concentrated active life, buzzing and honking road traffic, rattle of helicopters, humming of AC units, blare of sirens, and all that noise is easily trumped by horrendous roar of subway trains. Even our parks are so noisy that it is difficult to hear any birds. And if you hear them, they sing at the top of their voices and their songs sound patently hoarse. Some people might not hear them at all because of their hearing problems caused by all that noise.
    Ancient spiritual exercises are silence, the art of quiet listening and contemplation. That is where the lectionary reading will lead us this Sunday. Meanwhile you can try it on your own as evening approaches any day; let dusk come on its own and with its quite pace; use that time to be silent with yourself and with God; and switch lights only after it gets truly dark. Such quiet time can be a true spiritual detox balm. 

Evening rainbow over Manhattan

2016/07/06

#hashtags @rutgers

Every summer we undertake an electronic cleanup of our office computers. Once in a while we discover some interesting or important files. This year we found a dust gathering disconnected hard drive in the church library and on it was what appears to be a fragment of an ancient e-mail from the collection of Manhattan Bible of Henry Rutgers. Here is all we were able to decipher and partly reconstruct:

Paul@ApostolicEnterprise.org
to beloved Henry@ManhattanBreweries.com
Grace to you and Peace from God our Parent and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Before all things, I pray that you are well and that you prosper on your farm in New Amsterdam.
I thank God at all times for your faithfulness and your hospitality to me and all our sisters and brothers. Your dedication to our faith and education of all is exemplary.
Dear brother, know that I plan to sail to your shores and hope to visit you soon, please prepare for me a small room. Before we meet face to face we can always use book of faces or as some call it face-book. I found it to be a useful tool in our ministry. Don’t allow it to be used only by evangelical fools for their self-serving deceptions. They steal all churches and engage in church identity theft, hiding behind reputable names but their self-righteousness is unRedeemable. In tears I admit that the message of the cross has many adversaries in our world and especially among those who call themselves “brothers” but know that hashtags of divine #socialjustice, #progressivefaith or #allarewelcome cannot be easily hushed!
I Cc Luke and Erastos who are also sending their greetings.
The Grace of the Lord be with your spirit.


Everyone can easily see that this is a pious forgery, since at the time of Henry Rutgers the name “New Amsterdam” had not been used for more than a century. But this false email letter, nevertheless, brings forward an interesting question of apostolic social networks and latest communication tools. Join us this Sunday when we worship with “#hashtags @rutgers”