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."

2018/10/10

Ukulele Gospel

I love Hawaiian music. I love its unique musicality, its special, so-called, slack key tunings. Hawaiian songs are enchanting, whimsical even mystical. They are sweet and gentle, infused with tropical fragrance and inspired with the spirit of Aloha. I believe that the musicality of the Hawaiian language has something to do with it. It is one of very few languages with ONLY open syllables. Hawaiian words and sentences simply want to be chanted or sung.
    But if you look into the lyrics, you realize that words are not only melodious, they are like deep enigmas, they have layers and layers of meanings. Even the simplest songs are far from trivial. On the surface they are about flowers, beaches, waterfalls, breezes ... but underneath are hidden treasures of meaning. Stringing flowers in a cold night is about passionate love (Ahi Wela), clinking of shiny shells is not only an adorable lullaby but celebration of motherly love (Pūp
ū Hinuhinu). And these are just common and expected metaphors.
    We can progress and find a ditty about rains, breezes and other weather phenomena which captures the geography of the entire island (Hilo Hanakahi). And furthermore, a famous love song about Waipio Valley waterfalls (waterfalls stand for lovers) can also teach us respect and love of the local nature (Hi‘ilawe). And in another song, beach-sand is made into a reminder of Hawaiian patriotism (Hawai‘i Aloha) while a melodious song which opens with a line about “the Famous flowers of Hawaii” is in fact a powerful protest-song against American military occupation and colonialism (Kaulana Nā Pua).
    Even a Hawaiian Christian hymn or song often contains some surprising message. On the surface it might be just a simple paraphrase of the biblical text, but under the surface is this deep spiritual intuition and radical social justice message easily matching the cutting edge scholarship.
     Join us this Sunday as we open the “Ukulele Gospel” and let it reveal the new insights from the story of Jesus and the Rich Man (Iesu Me Ke Kanaka Waiwai).


Kumu Kainoa plays tenor ukulele and sings "Iesu me ke kanaka waiwai"

2018/10/02

Ethos of the First Reformation and the Kavanaugh hearing

A good friend asked me about my theological reaction to the Ford - Kavanaugh hearing. Specifically from the perspective of the Waldensian theology. Here is my answer: 
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Let me state from the beginning that I am not Waldensian, but an heir of a similar movement in Central Europe. I studied in Prague under Professor Amedeo Molnar, a preeminent scholar on Waldensian history and theology. He used to say that the renewal movements sparked by Peter Waldo and Jan Hus together made up a First Reformation that predated, in some cases by several centuries, the World Reformation of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. From this First Reformation perspective, I dare to remark: 

1) Swearing or taking an oath at the beginning of the hearing would be totally against one of the original core values of Waldensian ethos and theology. (Waldensians rejected this pivotal part of the medieval oppressive power-system by quoting direct instruction of Jesus: "Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one." Mat 5:37)
 
2) An attempt to rush the process without actually searching for the truth, as diligently as can be done, goes against the very ethos of Waldensian, Hussite and Reformed tradition! Jan Hus' maxim was Pravda vítězí! (in Czech) or Veritas vincit! (In Latin) which, in English, means: Truth prevails!

 
3) Therefore, goals can never justify the means among those who are heirs of the First Reformation. Our spiritual forebears were painfully aware that wrong means always lead to wrong ends.

4) Respect for women was deeply rooted especially in the early Waldensian and Hussite traditions - it included leadership roles of women in these reform movements and respect for their social, legal and religious standing.

5) The followers of Peter Waldo and some followers of Jan Hus (Unitas Fratrum - among which I count myself) rejected every form of violence (which would certainly include any violence, or tacit justification of violence, against women.)

6) The followers of Peter Waldo and Jan Hus were not total abstainers from alcohol, but they detested excess in every way.

7) They rejected any forms of arrogance and entitlement based upon wealth, class or even education. This is what the ancient description of the Waldensians reads: "Naked they follow the naked Christ." 

8) And one closing remark: Calling on the name of God to support one's own political perspective, as one senator did at the close of the hearing, borders on blasphemy. 

2018/09/26

Exoplanets and Faith

This is Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Under its twin domes are two very powerful telescopes. They are responsible for many astronomical discoveries including finding a great number of exoplanets, planets around distant stars. At this time (September 2018) astronomers confirmed the existence of 3,800 such planets and are further looking into additional 2,200 potential foreign planets.
    Because of our instrumental and observational limits, astronomers predominantly find uninhabitable planets similar to our Saturn or Jupiter, but smaller rocky planets similar to Earth were also discovered. The search for exoplanets remains a cutting edge science, and yet it is ever more obvious that a large proportion of stars are surrounded with planetary systems. Considering an enormous number of stars just in our own galaxy, it is almost certain there is life outside of Earth.
    It was not a homiletic joke when Pope Francis asked in a sermon a few years ago: “If, for example, tomorrow an expedition of Martians came to us here and one said ‘I want to be baptized!’, what would happen? Martians, right? Green, with long noses and big ears, like in children’s drawings.” The Pope brought this theme primarily to highlight the need for spiritual openness towards people of different backgrounds, races and cultures. (By the way I believe that people should be treated respectfully regardless whether they ask to be baptized or not, regardless of their religion or non-religion!)
          While extraterrestrial life is almost certain, our chances of getting in contact with sentient beings are extremely slim. Distances between stars and planets are prohibitively enormous and cannot be circumvented. For instance all our electromagnetic signals from radios, TVs, telephones etc. traveling at the speed of light did not get further than to the few dozen nearest stars. We are almost certainly not alone in the universe, but in reality it is as if we really were!
    Notwithstanding theoretical nature of these realities they, nevertheless, raise some intriguing philosophical and theological questions. Join us this Sunday when we discern questions of Exoplanets and Faith.

HR 8799 - the first directly observed extrasolar planetary system.
This GIF animation was composed from Keck Observatory pictures. 


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And a few additional notes.
 

     Anthropologists and even a number of governments felt the necessity to protect the so called uncontacted tribes specifically from zealous fundamentalist Christian missionaries who are known to cause more harm (physical, cultural and spiritual) rather than good to those whom they want to “save”.  

And furthermore, SciFi writers sometimes imagine a greatly advanced extraterrestrial civilization looking at our planet and our specie from a safe distance with a similar mixture of curiosity and desire not to intervene like we do with those uncontacted tribes.
Well, we do not need to hyposticize any such extraterrestrial aliens any more. I know that the last few years our nearest neighbors and recent allies look at our national affairs and at our government with a similar mixture of curiosity, amusement and concern, not knowing what to do with the wild and irrational US administration.

2018/09/20

Alpha Centauri

This sculpture represents a star named Rigil in the constellation Centaurus also known as Alpha Centauri. Polynesian sailors called this star Kamailehope, and as the second brightest star on the southern sky, it helped them to navigate safely the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. Without any instruments and maps, but rather just observing the rising and setting of stars, the Polynesian navigators were able to find distant specks of land in the midst of endless ocean. Stars are indeed an amazing help for measuring time and space.
    This sculpture is a part of the world’s largest art and science installation. Alpha Centauri is at the ‘Imiloa Planetarium in Hilo, Hawaii, but it is also a part of the Carl Sagan Planet Walk in downtown Ithaca, NY. It is in scale model of our solar system and I walked it with my sons when we lived in Binghamton. The Sun is about a foot across right at the center of the town. Earth is about thirty yards away and about the size of a larger poppy seed. Pluto is 3/4 mile away almost at the shore of Cayuga lake.
    Now imagine you are smaller than a virus and standing on that tiny bluish poppy seed somewhere in downtown Ithaca, New York (but frankly, it can be anywhere in New York State) and looking across the entire continental US and once more that distance across the Pacific Ocean ... and there in that distance, on the slopes of active volcano on the campus of University of Hawaii at Hilo is our other nearest star! (Actually a system of three gravitationally bound stars.) From Ithaca to Hilo - it is indeed the largest art and science sculpture, but for me it is also a spiritual sculpture.   
    Carl Sagan once wrote “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. ... It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” Stars can indeed help us to navigate not only vast open oceans, but also our lives.
    Come this Sunday when we will celebrate such bright lights and hear an invitation to emulate stars shining in the dark.


And if you wonder about the location of Rigil (Alpha Centauri / Kamailehope) here it is, close to the Southern Cross. 

2018/09/13

Ferocious love


When the Hebrew Bible, in Song of Songs (8:6b) wants to describe the power of love it uses some strange metaphors: 
            For love is strong as death, 
            passion fierce as the grave.
            Its flashes are flashes of fire,
            a raging flame. 
This is of course a New Revised Standard translation of this verse which, unfortunately, does not do justice to the Hebrew original. In Hebrew it goes something like this:
            Indeed, love is as mighty as Mot,
            its jealousy as enduring as Sheol.
            Love's fever is like Resheph,
            it's fire like Lehabat of the LORD. 
Immediately it reads like a page from the “Who is Who” among fierce and dangerous Semitic gods or demons:
   Mot was a god of death.
   Sheol was an equivalent to the Greek god Hades - a personified Netherworld.
   Reshep was an equivalent to the Roman god Mars, the Greek god Ares. Reshep was a patron of war but also of epidemic feverish infections.
   Lehabat was the least popularly known but feared flying and flaming demonic monster.
Only with this introduction to the Ancient Semitic religion we can began to grasp how truly powerful love was deemed to be by the Biblical poet! To describe love’s ferocity, the Bible uses not one, not two but four fierce and dreaded deities.
And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

P.S. Several years ago I have given a lecture "How many gods made up God", which also mentioned god Resheph - you can find slides and notes of that lecture it by following the link.

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This Sunday we continue our series on Celestial Theology with Resheph - the planet Mars, and also a celestial patron of wars, conflicts and feverish epidemics.
            Yet even such a malevolent theme can teach us something important for our lives, can protect us from our contemporary evils and lead us closer to our loving Lord.

2018/09/06

Wabi-Sabi Artist

Often I think of God as an ultimate wabi-sabi artist.
What is this wabi-sabi?  It is an interesting Japanese aesthetic concept which is quite difficult to explain in words alone. Entire books were written about it. I am not an expert but I will try to show you with the help of this bowl. It is not Japanese but it can help me to illustrate the basic idea.
    It is made of beautiful American wood - Black Cherry. And it was one of our first true purchases after moving to US. I went to a craft fare in Upstate NY, and there among many other bowls was this one. It attracted me for its imperfection and natural beauty.
    The original log was clearly flawed, the bowl did not fit in. Edges are uneven, the wood was at some point infested with wood worms. Edges are notched, over the years we probably added some of our own. There are also visible cracks in the wood, but the beauty of the shape and finish of the bottom tells the story. It was made by a master craftsman who took an imperfect log and made it into a perfect, beautiful and functional bowl.
    That is the essence of wabi-sabi – finding and showing beauty through roughness and flaws while respecting authenticity and simplicity of handmade daily objects. Finding and sharing wisdom of natural simplicity.
    Only a true master can take an imperfect log like this and make it into a practical and beautiful bowl with stories to share and that is what I meant by using this parable of God as a wabi-sabi artist. God is respectfully, tactfully at work in our world; on us and with us. Taking us as we are and shaping us, when we make ourselves available and willing, into something useful and internally beautiful.
    Join us this Sunday at the beginning of the new school year as we celebrate God, the wabi-sabi artist. Join us as we rejoice in being invited to participate in this art project of living our imperfect yet meaningful lives.

2018/08/30

Divine breeze

Have you heard about PHYLLOMANCY?
    It is a form of divination from leaves. In ancient times it was a way to be inspired by a god or gods and to discern the divine will. In its classical form it meant listening to the rustling of lives in some special tree or in a sacred grow. (By the way, don’t we sometimes use a poetic metaphor speaking about a breeze whispering in the trees?)
    Breezes or winds were signs of divine presence or at least a presence of God’s very own messengers and trees and their leaves were instruments which made this divine presence discernible by our human senses.
    In 2 Samuel (5:22) David receives an instruction to wait until he hears in the crowns of balsam trees the sound of marching angelic army. And in Genesis 3 the first humans in Eden recognized the LORD’s presence by hearing the breeze in the garden.
    The Bible itself gives us these examples of this beautiful practice of Phyllomancy. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.


And when you are in a park or a forest away from the rumble and rattle of our modern world, stop for a moment and listen to the whispering of leaves. Perhaps you will hear God’s angels coming close.

And even in our large and busy city we can still visualize even a slight breeze. We can make a prayer flag and every wind can propel our prayers to our neighborhood. Join us this Sunday in the worship as we replace the prayer flag which disappeared few weeks ago.

2018/08/16

Light-Bringer

The Morning Star above the East horizon
If you know me on Facebook or Instagram, you might notice that I love colourful dawns and dusks. In summer, I am happy to get up at 5am so that I can have a look on the theater of colours and shapes. That way I also often encounter the planet Venus in its dual form of Morning or Evening Star.
    Interestingly, many cultures and languages, including my native Czech, have two completely different names for the Morning Star and for the Evening Star. It is also true about Latin, old Greek and biblical Hebrew. It is quite possible that a very long time ago people did not recognize the Morning and Evening Stars were the same planet.
    But then a very old myth told the story that morning and evening stars were born as twins. Before the invention of writing, such stories were the way to preserve and pass on to next generations the recognition that the morning and evening stars were closely related - just like a pair of twins. There is a myth from West Semitic culture inscribed on cuneiform tablets from Ugarit (KTU 1.23), which preceded the Hebrew bible by number of centuries that states Shachar and Shalim (Morning and Evening Star) were twin brothers and an identical planet - Venus.
    And that is something you might not know about the Bible.


      Similarly in the ancient Greek culture Phosphoros (Morning Star) was identified with Hesperos (Evening Star) and in Latin Lucifer was identified with Vesper.
       Join us this Sunday as we decipher how and when it happened that the Latin name for morning star LUCIFER got such a bad rap. In fact, Lucifer is such a beautiful and meaningful name! In Latin it means “the light-bringer”. How, why and when did it happen that Lucifer (Light-bringer) was made into a personified evil? You might be surprised!

July Northern skies from my living room (about 38 hours apart)



2018/08/08

Counting stars

Calibration lasers of the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea
God famously promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15). Of course it was a metaphor because stars were proverbially innumerable. But are they really? It all depends how you count and what instrument you use.
    Abraham had the great benefit of dark nights unpolluted with our modern electrical lights, but on the other hand, he had only his naked eyes. How many stars can an eye observe?
    Astronomers came up with the answer. Under ideal conditions in a moonless, deep dark night without any light pollution a sharp healthy human eye can observe stars down to 6.5 magnitude and such celestial objects can be counted. If we subtract the Sun and the Moon and all the planets, we end up with 9,096 stars across the entire sky. With a wide open horizon you can see about 4,548 stars and if you add few planets we end up with 4,550 or so stars - and thus also descendants promised to Abraham.
    Interestingly, such a number is not far off from what archeology tells us about population in ancient Judea. The Early Iron Age settlement in Jerusalem, a period to which the Bible positions David and Salomon, was about one or maximum two thousand people. Judean highlands had perhaps a few more thousand. Only the Judean Plain by the Mediterranean Sea was slightly more populous.
    The entire Judean kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital could have a population of 10-12 thousand. It was truly a small, pocket size, provincial kingdom and counting descendants like stars with a naked eye might not be far off. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our Celestial theology observing, counting and rejoicing in stars.

2018/07/31

Overcoming Lunacy

The Moon with a rainbow halo in cirrus clouds (with the Jupiter beneath). 
My dear wife Martina seems to be under the spell of the moon, or more precisely I should say her work is. As many of you know, she is an Internist at a hospital in the Bronx and she often complains about being on call during full moons.
    Frankly, it defies any attempt for quantified systemization: sometimes it is about a higher number of patients, other times patients are fewer, but more complicated and yet at other times it is not about patients at all, but about their difficult relatives. Whatever the reason, around the full moon I know that I or our son Jakob can prepare dinner at least an hour or two later than usual.
    Many professionals in hospitals are convinced about the influence of moon over their work and they are not alone. Some police departments are on record for scheduling extra officers for the full moon nights.
    Scientists meanwhile insist that there cannot possibly be any direct physical mechanism for the Moon influencing human behaviour. They claim that all this anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal. They call it all an "illusory correlation", we are simply much better in remembering events rather than nonevents. (If something unpleasant happens during a full moon, we remember it, when nothing happens, no one notices.)
    But frankly, I am not convinced by these skeptics. Especially in the summer the full moon is very bright. I observed and photographed bright rainbow-coloured halos around the moon. All that extra light at night, let me put it mildly, can be responsible for more eventful nights. With the moon out more people are also out and more things can happen... And when you distribute it among large samples of people it can certainly have a psychological and spiritual impact. At least it is a possibility...

This Sunday we will leave all the sinister aspects of the Moon out and instead of lunacy we will concentrate on positive and beneficial aspects of the Moon. We will look how the Moon fits positively into our Christian faith.

2018/07/26

Cult of Sun

The Bible tells us that King Josiah, as a part of his religious reform of Judean religion, removed from the Jerusalem temple horses dedicated to Sun. (2 Kings 23:11). And I  intentionally left out the definite article before “Sun”, because here it does not designate a heavenly body but almost certainly represents a name of a solar deity.
    It is well known fact that flaming chariots with horses were frequent attributes of ancient solar deities. And in Jerusalem these solar horses were most likely dedicated to YHWH (the LORD) who absorbed the role of the solar deity and was vested with the attributes of Sun god.
    King Josiah allegedly cleansed the temple and religion by eliminating this pagan adulteration. But strangely even in the Bible itself there are still indications that the worship of Sun continued (for instance Ezekiel 8:16).   
     Centuries later, in the fourth century BCE, we have archeological evidence. It comes to us in the form of a coin, quoter-shekel, minted in Judea. The Jewish coin depicts a bearded figure holding a hawk or falcon and seated on the winged chariot.
    An inscription around his head has been deciphered by scholars in two different ways. Either it reads YHW and identifies the figure as the god YHWH, or it might read YHD which indicates that the coin was minted in Yehud (Persian province of Judea).
    In any case, it is not a winged wheelchair, and the bird is not a pet. Both are well known attributes of solar deities. This is clearly a depiction of the YHWH, the LORD God, as a Solar Deity. (And let us leave aside the Commandment against depicting the LORD, clearly it hadn’t been as strictly observed, as we were made to believe.)
    This solar cult in the Jerusalem temple and these relatively late examples of the fusion of YHWH with the Sun god is something you might not know about the biblical religion.

Come and join us this Sunday as we continue our series of Celestial Theology this time concentrating on the rich, beautiful and deeply meaningful solar metaphors and images.

2018/07/19

Parent in Heaven


On Wednesday night I was on the roof of our building preparing for this Sunday’s Sermon by taking picture of planet Jupiter and its Galilean moons.
          I have to acknowledge that to the best of my best knowledge, Jupiter is never directly mentioned in the Bible. How could it then be the theme of Sunday? What could Jupiter have in common with our faith? And how could it, for instance, speak to our concerns for migrant children and babies separated from their parents? How could Jupiter inspire our faith or religiously anchor our protest against our babies-abusing government?
          Well, any time we talk or pray to “God the Father” or “Father in Heaven” we are, perhaps indirectly and unknowingly, invoking Jupiter. Because the name Jupiter comes from Proto Indo-European dyau-pater and can be understood and translated from old Latin or Greek as “God Father”
          Join us this Sunday as we reject the toxic and abusive masculinity and rejoice in the protective kindness of our Parent in heaven, protector and defender of widows and orphans.





Interestingly the planet Jupiter plays this protective role. Some astronomers propose that Jupiter functions as protector of life on our planet by substantially reducing numbers of comets and asteroids which could cause us harm. We could observe Jupiter catching and defusing of a comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994. Some of the impact brown clouds in Jupiter atmosphere (all in line near the planet's polar region) are each as large as continental USA.