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."

2013/11/29

Medieval Faith Comics


For Advent and Christmas this year we will use this famous early renaissance painting from Holland.
It is a gorgeous piece of art, but it also provides a theological/legendary education in a form of a Medieval Faith Comics (a story and a dialogue in a picture). In place of modern text-bubbles we have here inscribed scrolls (also called banderoles or phylacteries). 

The angels on the roof are setting the scene. They sing Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people, good will!
The kneeling midwife is identified as Azel (more commonly known as Zebel) and she says in utter  amazement, A virgin bore a son!
The standing midwife is named Salome and she says, I will not believe unless I probe. And as a consequence of her disbelief, Salome’s hand withers and she suffers a terrible fiery pain in it. She publicly repents and is being advised by the white angel, Touch the boy and be healed!
 
Of course you cannot find this story of two midwives in the New Testament. The oldest version of this story is preserved in the Gospel of James. This ancient Gospel, as old as some parts of the Bible, is miraculous, mysterious, and mythical in the most exaggerated manner. And exactly as such it can help us fully understand and appreciate the true nature, origins and meaning of the Biblical Christmas stories. These old Biblical as well as extrabiblical stories bring up important spiritual, theological and philosophical themes in the form of thrilling and entertaining narratives.
 
On the first Sunday in Advent we will look at how Mary herself was born and we will try to discern more about our human relationship to nature and one another.

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And by the way, the hem of Mary’s cloak is also inscribed with a Latin text: SALVE REGIN[A MATER MISERICOR]DIE V[I]TA DVLCEDO ET SPES NOSTRA SALVE AD TE CL[AMAMV]S EXVLES FILII EVE AD TE SVSPIRAMUS GEMENTES ET FLENTES IN HAC LACR[IMARVM VALLE]. It is a famous Marian hymn and prayer: Hail, (holy) Queen, Mother of Mercy, Hail Sweetness, Life, and our Hope! To thee we cry, banished children of Eve, to thee we sigh, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
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And for those who are interested in the legendary story of two midwives, here it is from the Protoevangelium of James. This link leads to the Greek text and below are chapters 19+20 in a dynamic equivalent translation:

    And at that time a woman was coming down from the mountains and she says, "Man, where are you going?" And I said, "I am seeking a Hebrew midwife." And she said, "Are you from Israel?" And I said, "Yes." Then, she said, "In that cave, who is giving birth?" And I said, "My fiancĂ©." "So she is not your wife?" She asked. And I said, "She is Mary, she was raised in the temple and given to me by lot to be my wife. But she is not my wife, and the child she expects she got from the Holy Spirit." And she is like, “Sure!” And Joseph said, "Come and check it up yourself."
    So the midwife went with him. And they stood near the cave and a dark cloud of bright light hovered over the cave. And the midwife said, "My soul glorifies this day. With my own eyes I have seen today something unbelievable: Salvation was born to Israel." And immediately, the cloud lifted up from the cave and it was filled with so bright a light that their eyes could not bear it. But after a moment, as that light subsided they could make out an infant and walking all on his own, and he took the breast of his mother, Mary. And the midwife exclaimed, "This is my great day, for I have seen what no one has seen before!"
    And the midwife came out from the cave and met Salome and said to her, "Salome, let me tell you about this new miracle. A virgin gave birth, as incredible as it sounds!" And Salome said, "As the Lord my God lives, unless I use my finger and probe it, I will not believe that a virgin has given birth."
    And the midwife went in and said, "Mary, now lie down, for you are the source of not a small controversy." Then Salome inserted her finger in her lap. And exclaimed in panic, "Woe to me, Why did I commit such a wrong? Why didn’t I believe? I tested the living God. And now my hand is consumed by a flame and is being torn away from my body." And she dropped to her knees before the Lord, crying, "God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not made me into an warning example to the children of Israel, but let me serve again the poor. For you know, Lord, that I have served in your name and received my wage only from you."
    And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in front of her, saying, "Salome, the Lord of all has heard your prayer. Raise your hand, touch the child, lift him up and he will be your salvation and joy." And Salome went to the child and lifted him up, saying, "I worship him because he has been born a great king of Israel." And at that very moment Salome was healed and left the cave guiltless. But a voice came saying, "Salome, Salome, do not speak about miracles you have witnessed until the child comes to Jerusalem."

2013/11/22

ThanksgivingS

Last year my family spent Thanksgiving in Hawaii. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving we went to a local mainline protestant church. It was an eye-opening experience, but in a totally new way. Let me explain:
    The Thanksgiving sermon opened with a long introduction about the foliage season in New England. This introduction was necessary, we were told, because Hawaii did not have seasons. The body of the sermon was a re-shaking of all those made-up patriotic tales about Puritans and Indians and the culinary symbolism of their shared foods. This sermonizing was necessary, we were told, because thanksgiving was not a local Hawaiian custom and thus the local people needed yearly reminders. And finally a connection was made between New England Puritans, Indians, Missionaries and Hawaiians, ending on a happy note of a benign coexistence of peoples around the carved turkey, spooned stuffing and poured gravy.
    The church service was happy, cozy, conflict-free, predictable... but completely wrong, because untrue! I knew that much because we visit Hawaii not only for its beaches but primarily to learn more about this unique land and its people. Of course Hawaii does have well pronounced seasons - But those seasons do not look like those in New England! Of course native Hawaiians knew thanksgiving long before the first missionaries came introducing turkeys and pumpkins, they knew thanksgiving even before the first Puritans ever landed in New England - But they celebrated it with different produce, different dishes, different rituals, and on different, season-appropriate, dates! Of course churches should vigorously strive for peaceful coexistence between cultures and peoples - But this cannot be accomplished by repetition of made-up tales in a phony attempt to mask painful historic wounds.
    The utter absurdity of that Sunday service opened my eyes to the true nature of thanksgiving. I realized what thanksgiving was not. Thanksgiving is not about any particular date or climatic season, it is not about made up tales, it is not about what is on the table, it is not about any particular produce or dish, it is not about any specific cultural customs. The essence of thanksgiving transcends cultures, peoples, religions. Come this Sunday to search together for this universal essence of thanksgiving: the result is surprising, challenging and deeply true.


2013/11/15

Guardian Angels, Unite!


I bought this angel in the early 1990s at an Advent sale to benefit a special school for children with combined disabilities in Prague. Being a conscientious objector I spent two years of my civil service at that daycare center serving lunches, cleaning playrooms, wiping noses (as well as some other body parts), pushing wheelchairs, reading fairytales, washing bathrooms, playing with children in the parks, laughing with them, and calming them down when they cried or got anxious or even angry.
    My rainbow angel was decorated by one of our children (I can only guess who it might have been) and when it was left unsold at the end of the day, I adopted her, paying the full price of $2 and more as my donation. She has been guarding me in my office ever since, reminding me of of the child who made her, reminding me of the guardian angels of all those with special needs and special joys, special life challenges and special gifts.
    More than a century ago Ludwig Feuerbach suggested that human religions are actually projections, and the heavenly realms are created (imagined) by humans in their own societal image and in their own likeness. I think there is a lot to be said about it. Our own Judeo-Christian tradition, for instance, created at first monarchical, later somehow bureaucratic hierarchies of angels with their special roles, tasks, and privileges: Archangels, Seraphim, Malakim, Cherubim ... and at the very bottom there are always throngs of guardian angels, the true working class angels.
    My rainbow angel reminds me that the structured bureaucratic angelic hierarchy might populate the heavens of any and many religions and religious people,  but just in one sentence (Matthew 18:10), Jesus turned the people-costructed heavens upside down. Jesus gave guardian angels special access, special privileges, special rights. And Jesus gave these special powers particularly to the guardian angels of those with special needs!
    So forget about the meticulously constructed angelic hierarchies of Judaism (especially of the Kabbalah) or Medieval Scholastic Catholicism, not to mention those beautifully painted and gilded angels of the Orthodox. Jesus’ heaven has been "organized" in a very special way; Jesus’ heaven has been run by angelic proletariat. What does it mean for our faith, for our life, for our relationships, especially relationships with those with special needs? Come this Sunday to discern and search together.

2013/11/01

The Green Flash


I love sunsets, their warm hues, their long shadows, their depth of space, their dramatic skies in constant fast-paced change. Often I wish I could have joined the Little Prince on his small planet with just two active volcanoes and a very special flower, as told by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I wish we could watch a sunset over and over again that very same day just by moving our chair by few feet. But of course we do not live on asteroid "B-612"; our planet is so much larger! Still, this makes sunsets more precious - there is just one each day. Every sunset is a unique, spectacular, yet calming show.
    And occasionally, but very seldom, we can experience something truly special, like a Green Flash. I have seen only few green flashes in my life. It is best if the sky above the horizon is cloudless and the sun is setting beyond the sea. The Sun disk moves towards horizon and slowly sinks beyond. And then, just when the Sun disk completely disappears there is a sudden and short flash of green light multiplied by all those reds and orange hues all around. It lasts only for a second or so but is intense and always a great surprise.
    So much so, that until recently it was considered to be just a sensual illusion. It is not - it is an atmospheric and physical phenomenon. It is a mirage-like phenomenon when light of different wavelengths (colors) bends, reflects and disperses differently. It can be captured on camera.


This particular picture of a green flash was taken in summer 2012 at the city pier in Roseau, on the island of Dominica in the Caribbean. Probably the nicest I have yet seen was in Hawaii near one of the places called “Leina.” Those were the spots where the ancient Hawaiians believed that spirits “uhane” leaped from this world to join the ancestors and the world unseen. Although this religious metaphor is anchored in a completely different, Polynesian, world-view, it opened my eyes and my mind for neglected and almost forgotten Judeo-Christian metaphors. This Sunday in the season of All Saints and Souls (anyhow originally non-Christian, because Celtic, holiday called Samhain)  we will seek to refresh some of these almost forgotten realities illuminated under a green beam. It will be our somber theme with a hopeful gleam.