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."

2018/12/18

The census when Quirinius was governor of Syria

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
This was the first registration which happened when Quirinius was governor of Syria.


Those are familiar and well loved words opening the Christmas Story in the Gospel of Luke. They are associated with the joy of Christmas but behind these words is hidden a major and violent upheaval. What seems like an innocuous dating remark about a census was actually a bitter grievance which triggered a decades long guerilla war. It was started and led by Judas the Galilean and his resistance movement which became known as the Zealots.
    How could a census lead to a guerrilla war? Because an ancient census was not primarily about better governance but about collecting taxes. In fact one of the most unjust forms of taxes - per capita tax (a head tax). Some time ago I explained it to the children in our Sunday School with pieces of pasta.
It is a per capita tax, everyone pays the same. A rich person pays ten pieces from his several boxes of pasta, and a poor person also pays ten pieces from his one handful of pasta. Both payed exactly the same. It looks just, but the rich guy has plenty left, while the poor lost a third of his dinner! 
     These are the tricks which some politicians play with taxes. It looks like a just arrangement, it looks like a good deal. All pay the same or, for instance, all receive a tax cut - but in fact it is utterly unjust and unfair. Judas the Galilean quite rightfully protested calling this tax “not better than slavery and a means to take away the nation’s liberty.” And because of this census and taxation injustice he started a seventy years long guerilla war against the Romans and their unjust ways.
    And this is something you might not know about the Christmas Story. 

In worship this Fourth Advent Sunday we will search for hope in the midst of such injustice and bureaucratic abuse of power and we will look for it from the perspective of pregnant Mary traveling to Bethlehem in her third trimester.



Fragment of a tomb inscription, probably belonging to Quirinius.


And for those who read this far here are few more details:
The Gospel of Luke is referencing historical figures and events, but their rendition is historically inaccurate and outright implausible.
1) Caesar Augustus did begin the practice of a regular and periodic count (Lat census, Gk apographe) of the population of the provinces of the Roman Empire but it never was a universal census of the entire empire, as described in the Gospel.
2) Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (c. 51 BC – AD 21) was a Roman aristocrat and a successful politician/administrator. He indeed was a governor of Syria
, but this dating does not fit with the rest of the Gospel of Luke by about a decade. 
3) Roman census involved the counting of
the population and valuation of individually and corporately held property. It did not require a return of individuals to their ancestral homes.
 

The primary reason of this text is theological. Biblical prophecies predicted, that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem. Jesus was known to come from Nazareth. The Evangelist Luke therefore created this story about the census travel to explain why and how Jesus of Nazareth could come from (be born in) Bethlehem and thus fulfill the ancient prophecies. The author of the gospel of Matthew had the same problem and solved it differently - Jesus' family was originally from Bethlehem, but escaped via Egypt to Nazareth. 

Thus indeed the primary focus of these nativity stories was theological. They confirm the fulfillment of biblical prophesies and rebuff adoptionism - Jesus was not adopted to be the Son of God at any later stage because of his special character or spiritual perfection, he was the Messiah from the moment (or even from before) of his birth. 

2018/12/07

Contra-Cultural Advent

Medieval illuminated hymnal
with a Czech version of Rorate song
(Or why to sing rorate rather than carols in Advent)

Advent is a precious, beautiful and meaningful period of preparation for Christmas. In its true form it is a time of contemplation and self-examination and thus very important for our  psychological and spiritual health. A genuine Advent is sine qua non for truly joyful celebration of Christmas. How can we truly rejoice in Christmas if we are celebrating it from the beginning of Advent? In every store, supermarket and shopping-mall we are bombarded ad nauseam with Christmas music from as early as Thanksgiving. In fact it is an emotional ploy to manipulate us into compulsive shopping. And our culture went along it. Some families are putting up Christmas trees already before the first Sunday of Advent! And even in many churches one could hear carol tunes deep into the Advent season. But Advent is not watered-down version of Christmas! Our ancestors of faith knew better. In Advent they used to get up early before daybreak and went to church to sing Rorate Plainsong and say their Advent pensive prayers. The true joy of Christmas is unthinkable without self-reflection and preparation of Advent, just like the Easter is not the same without Lent. Replacing reflective Advent with a stretched-out and diluted prelude to Christmas does not make Christmas better, in fact it preempts Christmas and steals away its true joy. At Rutgers we strive to resist the dictate of shallow ideology of consumerism and live our faith contra-culturally.

Rorate Founding Biblical verse is Isaiah 45:8
RORATE caeli desuper
et nubes pluant iustum
aperiatur terra
et germinet salvatorem
et iustitia oriatur simul
ego Dominus creavi eum.


Open up, O heavens,
and pour out righteousness.
Let the earth open wide
so salvation can sprout up
together with righteousness.
I, the LORD, created it.

2018/12/06

Prophetic reenactors

The Advent season brings to us the story of John walking through deserts and baptizing in the Jordan river. Interestingly, John was not the only one doing something like that at that time. During the time of Cuspius Fadus as the procurator of Judea there was a prophet Theudas who took people to the desert promising them that he would divide the waters of the Jordan River and bring them back to the Promised Land. But Fadus sent a heavy cavalry and stopped them before they even tried.
    When Porcius Festus governed Judea, there was the so called “Egyptian prophet.” A man who allegedly came from Egypt, gathered a substantial number of people, took them for a round trip through the wilderness and brought them up to Jerusalem with a promise that he would make the walls fall down like Joshua did at Jericho. Festus sent troops and scattered them off.
    Jewish historian Josephus Flavius also has a summary report of more charlatans, imposters or deceivers (as he calls them), who misleading many people, made them act like madmen and go to the desert with promises of deliverance and social, economic and political changes.
    There are clearly some common repeating features: taking people to the desert/wilderness, crossing rivers, toppling walls. In fact, they were repeating old religious archetypes by reenacting Exodus and the Taking of the Promise Land while each had some special feature or emphasis.
    Among the biblical scholars there is little doubt that John the Baptist belonged to this group of reenactors. John’s special feature was the “washing” in the Jordan river and then sending the baptized one by one to infiltrate, retake and repopulate the land. Thus, in a more peaceful way start all over again a just and peaceful society as God would have it. John the Baptist was indeed this prophetic reenactor of liberation. And that is something not all might know about him.
    Join us this Sunday in worship as we ask what would John the Baptist do today? Would he still be by that muddy creak dividing Israel and Jordan baptizing the American fundamentalist tourists on that “exact” spot as he did those thousands years ago? Or would he be leading and supporting people through the Sonora and our other southern deserts? Or would he be helping people to cross the Rio Grande, Colorado River and its canals?

 

2018/11/29

Protect Uncontacted Tribes!

In the entire world there are only several dozens of so called uncontacted peoples. Those are tribes or communities who are living their lives in almost complete isolation especially without contact with the outside modern civilization. Recently one of these tribes made it into the world news, when they forcefully defended their independence (unfortunately killing the willfully ignorant intruder).  
    These peoples are survival experts. Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 killed a quarter of a million people all around them yet they survived without any major problems. On the other hand they are vulnerable to the dangers coming to them from the outside human world in the form of prospectors, hunters, pillagers and unfortunately also Christian missionaries.
    Governments and anthropologists have very good reasons for protecting these uncontacted peoples. For instance, in their oral culture all the knowledge is being memorized and passed from generation to generation. If elders, carrying that information, die prematurely, almost an entire treasure of knowledge can be lost. If the chain of oral transmission is compromised, for instance if a concept of writing is introduced carelessly - substantial parts of the accumulated knowledge can be also lost forever.
    This is just one anthropological reason for protecting these peoples. There are other political, medical, linguistic but also biblical and theological reasons why they should be left alone as long as they want. And even after some of them express their desire to establish contacts, they should be further protected from abuse.
    It is well established that it is our obligation and in our own interest to keep and protect the beauty and diversity of nature, the life on our planet. That should certainly include in it the beauty and diversity of human languages, experiences and cultures. 
The Bay of Bengal with the North Sentinel Island indicated by an arrow.
A small speck (roughly of the size of two Manhattans) next to the much larger Andaman Islands.

2018/11/20

Thanksgivings

The Hebrew Bible orders, in a way, the celebration of three thanksgiving feasts each year. Well, these celebrations are not called Thanksgivings but that was their original nature and purpose.
    In the Hebrew Bible there are these three oldest and most important holidays. Pesach (Passover) was in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt and the liberation from slavery. Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost in Greek) was in remembrance of the Gift of Torah on Sinai and the celebration of the divine Law and directions for the religious as well as social life. And Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles) was to remind the people of the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land and the care and protection of the pilgrims and refugees.
    But among the Biblical scholars and Anthropologists there is an overwhelming consensus and almost no doubt that these theological explanations are only secondary. These three oldest Hebrew holidays had in fact deep agrarian roots. Passover was originally a pastoral celebration of lambing and preparation for a transmigration from winter to summer pastures. Shavuot/Pentecost was a celebration of cereal harvest and Sukkoth/Tabernacles was a celebration of vine/grape and olive harvest.
    Yearly agricultural celebrations were married with pivotal events of faith. In this union they were mutually strengthened, given purpose and a deeper meaning. Thus the Biblical Thanksgivings (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles) not only give thanks, they want us to remember and be inspired with the message of liberty, justice, and mutual care. Join us this Sunday to celebrate thanksgiving(s) in this spirit.




2018/11/15

Samaritan Neighbours

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, almost at the very end of the film, in the crucifixion scene, is this strange and memorable exchange:

It is not as crazy as it might seem, it is actually quite historically and religiously accurate, like so many other parts of this comedy.
    Samaritans and Jews did hate each other. Their prejudice was mutual and deeply rooted, and just like any other deeply seated prejudice it indeed went beyond the grave.   
    I cannot go into any details of this complicated and convoluted history, but it can be helpful to observe that just like so many other sworn enemies, Samaritans and Jews shared a lot of commonalities. They had almost identical ethic roots, religious roots and they even shared the same, almost identical, holy books. Yet, they considered each other as heretics, apostates, and bastards (impure, mixed, inferior race).
    Their hostility flared up repeatedly into violence. Samaritans sided with mortal enemies of the Jews and Jews payed them back by destroying Samaritan holy temples as soon as they could (just a few generations before Jesus - around 110 BCE).
    Both groups were minuscule players on the world scene, but they kept denouncing each other to the superpowers of their times: to Persians, Alexander the Great, the Seleucid Syrian kings, to the Romans, to Byzantines...
    They are the prime example of ancient sworn intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and racism.
And as such, they can help us to deal with intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and racism in our own times. On Tuesday of this week the FBI published an official 2018 report on hate crime in our American society. There has been a spike in US hate crimes for the third year in a row. No surprise there, all hate crime increased substantially in the last three years, but religious and racial crimes increased by dozens of percent.
    This Sunday we will look for inspiration and support to Jesus, how he dealt with Jewish Samaritan entrenched religious, ethnic and racial bigotry. We need his divine inspiration, encouragement and support. 

2018/10/24

Luther and the Devil

Reformation Sunday is coming up.
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Waffen.
Will be sung again in many churches. 
A mighty fortress is our God a bulwark never failing.
It is “a battle hymn” of Lutheran reformation.
    It is thick with references of fight against the powers of Evil, the Ancient Foe, a grim Prince of Darkness, the world filled with and under the control of the Devil. From Luther’s own sermons, table talks and letters we know these were not mere metaphors reserved for his earthly enemies. Luther believed in the physical existence of the Devil and furthermore, he underwent a number of hallucinatory episodes when he saw or experienced the presence and certainly talked or rather had shouting matches with the Devil. With a gusto Luther also blamed the Devil (rather than his German diet) for his own chronic constipation and kidney stones.
    History textbooks, and Sunday School lessons are mostly quiet about it because when Luther spoke about the Devil, his normally colorful language became outright obscene (coprolalic). But from the uncensored Martin Luther we know that he not only hallucinated the Devil, but also engaged with the Devil in shouting matches full of obscenities. From his own words and from testimony of his close friends we also know that at several occasions in his life Luther was throwing at the hallucinated Devil not only scatologic words, but the very smelly stuff itself.
And that is something you might not know about Martin Luther.

Luther might had been a father of Reformation ushering in the modern times and sensitivities but his own world-view and his personal religiosity were permeated with the contemporary vulgar German culture and infused with the late-medieval superstitions and prejudice. We must not hide this truth.
     Luther remains an important theologian and reformer and at the same time a conflicted, highly troubled, deeply prejudiced and vulgar medieval German hick. How is it possible? How does it go together? It remains a historical mystery and Luther himself would probably refer to a miracle of divine grace.
    Come this Sunday as we combine themes of Reformation and Halloween and observe Luther in his relationship to witches. Luther’s deeply troubling superstitions can help us fend off prejudices in our society and culture.

"Birth and Origins of Pope" - a woodcut by Lucas Cranach.
Made according to Luther's instructions.
The Devil gives anal birth to the pope and clergy, who are nursed and cared by some demonic figures.

2018/10/18

Writing letters

This Sunday (the 21st of October) in worship we will be doing something different. Joining the Bread for the World organization we will participate in their anti-hunger initiative, joining their campaign  “offering of letters”.  Integral part of our worship will be dedicated to letter writing. That is actually a very Christian thing to do. Letters has been a formative part of our faith.
 
    The oldest part of the New Testament were the letters of apostle Paul. There are seven genuine letters of Paul (Romans, 1st  + 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians, Philemon).
 
    Letters were so popular among early Christians that at least two different schools of Paul’s followers also wrote in Paul’s name. Thus in the Bible we also have seven so called Pseudo Pauline letters (Ephesians, Colossians, 2nd Thessalonians, 1+2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews).
 
    And in addition there were further letters written even later, up to the second century, in the name of other apostles. Those are seven Pseudoepigraphic letters (which means falsely attributed letters - these are James, 1+2 Peter, 1+2+3 John, Jude).  
 
    Thus in the New Testament , out of 27 distinct writings there are 21 letters! Some are genuine, some are fake, some are only called letters, nevertheless 78% of NT books are labeled as letters. Letters were and remain an important part of our Christian faith.
 
    Join us this Sunday as we continue in our worship this long letter-writing tradition. This Sunday we will be writing to our elected representatives asking them, from the center of our faith to end, or at least limit, the scourge of Hunger.

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: 
-----------------------------------------------------
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. 


- - -

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.

- - - - - - -
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)