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."

2015/12/30

Creative ΛΟΓΟΣ (Word)

How to better welcome the New Year but with the Creation Story!
    This time we will read and rejoice in the creation story from the Gospel of John - the opening hymn about the divine Word which formed and shaped, created and saved the world.
    Almost everyone is familiar with the creation in six days while ignoring a wide and wild variety of biblical creation stories (by fight, procreation, craft...). Probably most neglected and least recognized as such are the New Testament creation stories.
    The opening hymn of the Gospel of John (1:1-16) is just one of them. Then there is Luke’s summary of Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:22-29), another Early-Christian hymn in the epistle to Colossians (Col. 1:15-20) or an apocalyptic vision of the new Creation at the end of the book of Revelation (Rev.21).
    These Early Christian Creation Stories are mutually quite diverse, but they have one in common: they take seriously their contemporary intellectual and social milieu, and they express their Christian faith in their current idioms.
    I just wonder whether and how would they be inspired and how would they incorporate our current expanding world-view? How would they integrate faith and for instance the Star Nursery LH95 from the Large Magellanic Cloud or the ever growing number of planets orbiting other stars and growing certainty of other worlds with extraterrestrial life?
    We will welcome the New Year 2016 by asking, celebrating and rejoicing in these great questions of the ongoing, unfolding, Creation/Salvation Story.

On this picture is the stars-birthing part (a stellar nursery LH95) of the Large Magellanic Cloud.
And the word on the bottom of the picture is λογος ("a word" in Greek)
in handwriting roughly resembling the Codex Sinaiticus.

2015/12/21

Martin Buber and Polynesians

I could not find a picture of young Buber,
here he is about 90 years old overexposed with 'Ahu'ena Heiau.
A century ago a young Jewish German intellectual Martin Buber had an introspective  brainwave. He realized that modern philosophy and theology generate alienation. The more we can say about each other or about God, the more lonely we become.
    The very act of descriptive speaking and objective observation is putting distance between us and those about whom we speak. He observed that this reality is deeply coded in the essence of our language; “I” relate to “You” differently than “I” relate to “it” or “s/he”. “I – it” relationship is descriptive, objectifying, instrumental even alienating, while “I – You” relationship, at least in its pure form, is direct, eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul. This insight became the foundation of the Buberian pronoun-based dialogical existentialism (And was later worked into the book "I and Thou").
    I confess that I have been enchanted and influenced by Buber’s linguistic/philosophical/mystical insights. True relationships are built not by analyzing people, but by speaking heart to heart. Similarly a deep faith does not come from speaking about God, it comes from speaking with God. It all makes perfect sense. But it is also very Euro-centric, based on limited European linguistics.
    Take for instance the good news of incarnation presented to us in the Christmas name Emmanuel (God-with-us). Hebrew just like all the main modern Indo-European languages have just one concept of first person plural “we”.  But there are languages with a substantially broader spectrum. Polynesians, for instance, can distinguish between four different forms of “we” - dual (us two) and plural (all of us), exclusive (us without you) and inclusive (us with you).
    Such a language would immediately help to sort things out in theology as well as in politics. Imagine hateful political or religious xenophobes showing their true colors by speaking about Emmanuel as “God-with-us-but-not-you” while the angel from the gospel clearly meant “God-with-all-of-us-including-you”!
    Buber had marvelous spiritual insight when he formulated his pronoun based existentialism. By going global, by introducing Buber to Polynesians (and vice versa) we can gain even deeper and more profound insight.  
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Addition from 2017-03-01 -- here is a chart of Hawaiian personal pronouns which I recently created for my Hawaiian language class.



2015/12/10

Refugee Countryside


A rock formation in the north Iceland region of Westfjords
associated in legends with a troll woman Sekolla.
Can a countryside become a refugee, can it be uprooted?
     I know from my own experience that it can. I was born in Sudetenland, originally part of the Czech Republic which was for centuries settled by Germans. After the horrors of the Second World War, the local German population was expelled and deported to Germany and the generation of my parents was sent or commanded to resettle that land. At that historical junction even the countryside became uprooted and felt like a refugee; most of the local lore, legends, stories, myths disappeared and were forgotten when the Germans left.
    In any old cultural land all over the world from Iceland to Hawaii, from Kalahari to Siberian taiga, every significant feature of landscape usually has a story attached to it (anthropologists and religionists call it aetiology). It can be about a prince drinking from this spring, a folk hero and brigand being born under that ancient oak, or a waterfall appearing where a forlorn bride was said to jump over the cliff. Those stories are usually very poetic and mythical, only occasionally with a kernel of historical truth, but they play an important function because they help to tie people to their history and their environment. But they also have an important factual function; these stories often contain warnings about dangers of extreme weather, floods, fires...
    Before I was born, all these stories, or most of them, vanished with the expelled and deported Germans. It took about twenty years before the new settlers really noticed that something significant was missing in their lives. Of course they started to create their own lore, but it takes centuries. And thus during my childhood some naturalists, anthropologists and folklorists started to work to resurrect and return back at least some of those old stories.
    I wrote that this kind of geographical lore is part of any old genuine culture. It is also part of biblical stories. Interestingly, these geographical connections are the most neglected part of biblical stories. Perhaps it is because we, and most people of faith, do not live in biblical lands any longer. Some fundamentalists occasionally feel the urge to travel to the Holy Lands and trample ancient holy places and thus participate in turning them into an Americanized holy Disneyland.
    But biblical geographical references are deeper than Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jordan River or the Lake of Galilee. They permeate the Bible through and through and are important for understanding its message, important even for us today and important for us here, wherever we live, thousands of miles from the Holy Land. These Biblical examples can teach us to relate and respect countryside around us.

    Unfortunately the original inhabitants of our country at the Hudson River Estuary are long gone and only the faintest remnants of these old stories are remaining. Yet inspired by our faith tradition and re-learning how to be sensitive to the broad environment and country around us, we can start resettling our homeless countryside all about us. Just like with any refugees, we all will benefit from this endeavor.
 
Laurel Hill, a dominant igneous rock intrusion
located in the marches near mouth of the Hackensack River
near Secaucus, New Jersey.

2015/12/08

Refugee Jesus

I love this painting of Adoration of Kings by Jan Brueghel de Oude (the Elder). It marvelously fits with our theme for Advent and Christmas - Refugee Jesus. Just look at the ruined home into which he was born. It looks like a shanty or a home in a favela; a house cobbled together while already coming apart, yet still miraculously holding together...
    And then look at the sea of people, all those different dresses and diverse headgear! Those are truly crowds of people gathered from all corners of the world, at least as they knew it in XVI century Europe. But please, notice, not all people are interested in Jesus. Unlike more traditional nativity and adoration paintings, this one is not built around baby Jesus. This painting is different, more realistic, and I would say, also theologically more correct. Jesus is born into this world, but to a large degree, the world does not care. The World and its cities live as if nothing happened. Just around the corner people go on about their petty busyness and they do not notice a damn thing.
     And yes, then we can observe the rubberneckers and nosy folks who just like sensations or at least something, anything, happening. We also know these people with an attention span of minutes, just like today’s media. Then there are also the opportunists who love to use religion to boost their own image and their agendas. Look at those kings in Brueghel painting (and there are more than the traditional three) - at least some of them are recognizable caricatures. Brueghel clearly mistrusted and disliked royalty and nobility - those with power and always seeking more power.
     And he had an even bigger issue with people bearing arms. Soldiers and lawman ostensibly guard order, and citizen bear arms allegedly for their own protection. As we know from the biblical story, in just few days, many of those arms might be used in mass murder of the innocents of Bethlehem. Just as it happened many times over through the turbulent religious history of Brueghel’s home Flanders in the XVI century.
    Brueghel had clear artistic intuition. Jesus was born to this world. Through his life and especially through history Jesus became surrounded and associated with the sensationalist media and with the opportunists of power but he was and remains, in essence, an incarnation of humanity as God intended. Unfortunately in the alienated and alienating world, it means he was born as a poor vulnerable child in the center of cacophony of the world and away from centers of power. The biblical baby Jesus, transplanted into the early modern Flanders, brings hope to all the lost, forgotten, poor, marginalised, oppressed - and that is the true Good News of Refugee Jesus. Just wonder how and where would Jan paint Jesus today?      

By the way, the development and composition of this painting was developed and kept in the Bueghel family for generations. The tradition of non-idealised Jesus and Mary and caricature kings started with Pieter Brughel de Oude, was taken and further developed by Jan Brueghel de Oude and later copied several times by his sons Jan Brueghel de Jongere (the Younger) and his brother Pieter Brueghel de Jonger. Both “Jongers” copied works by their father and grandfather and sold them under “Oudes” signatures - speaking of early modern forgeries! So, who knows who exactly made this painting, and does it really matter? It was in this Flemish family.

2015/12/03

Climate Change Refugees

My first American book which I read from cover to cover was "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, set on the background of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. It was an economic and environmental catastrophe which caused mass migration and enormous suffering to about half a million small farmers from Oklahoma and bordering regions. 
    If we want to understand future dangers of the Climate Change (on agenda in Paris this week) it must be immediately stated that the Oklahoma drought, as bad as it was, was just a small regional catastrophe. We need to look deeper into history to grasp dimensions of mass migration, agricultural collapse and societal disintegration caused by climatic changes.
    We can, for instance, go to the prehistory of our faith and its oldest stories about ancestors of our Judeo-Christian faith. These stories are legendary by nature, yet they preserve traces of historical reality - the collapse of the Late Bronze Age around the year 1,200 B.C.E. When we hear in the Bible about ancestors forced to migrate by long lasting drought and crop-failures, it might be the last faint memory of these real catastrophic, subcontinent-wide events. In a preserved cuneiform letter written just before the collapse, a small  shipload of Egyptian grain was referred to as “a matter of life and death” for an entire city (tablet RS 20.212).
    Medium size climatic oscillation (Late Bronze Anatolian Drought) led to almost complete social and cultural implosion from Balkans to Mesopotamia all the way down to the borders of Egypt. We know about ancestors of faith migrating, but they were certainly not alone, almost entire populations were uprooted by these events. And those secure in their homes were soon overwhelmed by relentless waves of migrants. Kingdoms and even empires collapsed, bustling cities disappeared from maps. Social and cultural dark ages settled in for decades and even centuries.*)
    It is sometimes unsettling to know a little bit of ancient history. It is even more so, because as I have mentioned, the Late Bronze Collapse was caused only by a medium size climatic change. Dust Bowl was regional, Late Bronze Collapse was subcontinental, Global Climate change is going to be, well, Global, and therefore many times larger and more powerful.
    But our faith and the treasure of the biblical stories paint not only these dark pictures, they also offer positive models of behavior and stories of hope. If you dig deep into the biblical  stories, you can come across springs of hope. And that is what we will do this Sunday; we will dig with Isaac some wells for refreshing hope. We will learn how to be or how to care for climate change refugees.

*) This is of course a gross simplification of complex cultural and historical developments. But the general gist of it is correct. I received my PhD for the study of literature which was written immediately preceding this Late Bronze Age collapse.