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."


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.


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. 


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 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.


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.