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."

2014/09/18

Infancy Gospel of Henry Rutgers

As many of you know the buildings of Rutgers Church are undergoing long-deferred and desperately needed repair work. This summer, most of the work was done on and around the roof. Quite often we are faced with unpleasant discoveries of rusted beams, collapsing ceilings and crumbling walls, but occasionally we come across some spectacular surprises. For instance in this last week of astronomic summer we made an epochal discovery. Coiled up in an unused pipe behind the water tower was another fragment of the long-lost Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers. Here is my first tentative transcription:
- - -
Now this Jesus, when he was a little boy, like two or three he was, his grandfather Jack kept a vegetable garden just behind their home. And he toddled all the time behind his beloved grandpa. One day Jack went to his garden to pick up snails from his lettuce and strawberries and he just kept crushing them under his feet. And Jesus is behind him and snapping his fingers, and making them whole again right behind his sandals. And Jack is like, “Are you kidding me?
I could not believe this!” and “Don’t do it!” But snap, snap, snap, he restored every single one of them together with their shells and tentacles and even slimy paths. “We are not going to have anything from my garden this year, this little rascal loves pests better than my strawberries!” Announced Jack at home. But overnight Joseph had a dream, the angel of the Lord gave him some clear instructions and in the morning he made a nice wooden box with a mash over it. Snap, snap, snap Jesus brought out all the snails from grandpa’s garden into his box and kept them there in a snail-zoo, feeding them with some odd lettuce, cabbage and turnip leaves, and releasing them right before the autumn hibernation. That is how Jesus saved snails and at the same time everyone could enjoy strawberry ice cream and green salads that summer, and next year Mary learned to make delicious escargot to keep the infestation under control, while Jesus grew ever taller and more mature in spirit.

    This story clearly does not contain any genuine historical gospel text as anyone can see - strawberries were not cultivated in the biblical times and escargot was never kosher!* What we have in front of us is a fragment of an infancy gospel which only attempts to look like authentic Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers** while it is ignorant of contemporary Jewish customs. But this verdict does not mean it is completely devoid of any meaning. Just like other stories about infant Jesus our fragment is not genuine material, but it still highlights some authentic and very important biblical themes: God has a week spot for all the creatures who are being labeled pests; God strives and struggles for all creatures who are being crushed, God has a deep interest in preserving the broadest diversity of life. 
     Join us for Sunday Worship to celebrate this Mystery of Divine Compassion.


*And beside these facts the language is not in a nice and clear KingJamish (proper NewYorkish biblical dialect) like the rest of the Bible but it is just a mere Old Vernacular Highschoolish (Native Medieval SchoolEnglish).


** Some older reports on fragments of the authentic Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers can be found here, here and here.

2014/09/11

Can rocks teach wisdom?

The rock in this picture is quite unique. I picked it up last weekend, when my wife Martina and I visited an old zinc mine in northern New Jersey.
    A jovial retired miner led us underground. “All this gray rock around you,” he informed us, “is Franklin Marble which formed at the bottom of the sea about one billion years ago.” He said it with casual nonchalance but it took my breath away. That piece of rock alone is thousands upon thousands times older than so many of our fundamentalist compatriots reckon for the entire universe! If we visualized the age of this rock (one billion years) as one mile (distance From Rutgers church to Madison Avenue), the entire history of human civilization (about eleven thousand years) will fit into a little more than the last half-inch! The age of the rock alone inspires respectful reverence and reminds us of our human dimensions.
    But as you can see, this rock has also some special properties. It fluoresces and shines! While this marble rock was formed at the bottom of a sea, volcanoes erupted nearby and deposited a treasure trove of minerals. Over long aeons of time these minerals formed rich seams and veins of ores. Under a UV lamp those mineral come alive. Ordinary gray rock is suddenly intersected and crisscrossed with neon colors. It is not only a bright visualization of rock formation and ore geology, but also a surprising, beautiful and awe inspiring show. Down underground, in the New Jersey mine, we experienced first hand why the book of Job perceives the rocks under our feet as capable and bright teachers of divine wisdom.
    As we continue celebrating powerful mysteries of nature, come this Sunday to search and celebrate divine Wisdom (reverence, curiosity and beauty) hidden in rocks and ores.

Layers of minerals and ores shine under UV light in Sterling Mine Museum, NJ.
And here is my (paraphrase) translation of first verses of Job 28:

Surely, silver has its deposits,
    and there are places where people pan for gold.
Iron is produced from iron-ore,
    and rocks are smelted into copper.

People overcome the darkness,
    they search the furthest corners,
        obscure rocks, in the shadows of death.
They dig shafts away from human paths,
    alone they descend underground,
        on ropes swinging back and forth.

The same earth, which gives us bread,
    below is turned upside-down as if by fire.
In its rocks are deposits of precious stones,
    and in its dust are flakes of gold.

It is a path unknown to birds of prey,
    eyes of falcons have never seen it.
Lion cubs have never trod that path,
    nor adult lions have ever hunted there.

People reach deep into the hardest rock,
    upturn the very roots of mountains.
They cut tunnels into the cliffs,
    in their search for precious things.
They even stop the water seeping in,
    hidden treasures they bring to light.

 

2014/09/05

Voice of the Wounded Nature

This Sunday we will celebrate the Mystery of Voice. To encounter this mystery we need to learn to listen and to be sensitive to the voices and sounds of wounded nature.
      My strongest and strangest encounter with this voice came in
Kula Kai Cavern on the Big Island of Hawaii. My wife Martina and I were part of a small tour of cave enthusiasts. With knee pads, hard-hats we were crawling through passages at times no more than 25 inches high. And then, deep underground we stopped to catch our breaths. There, in the deepest part of the cave our guide offered us an experience often presented in such places. We switched off all our headlamps (they often emit sound), and sitting in complete darkness we listened to the silence.
     Down in the dark underground I heard the voice of wounded nature. It came to me in the form of a clear high pitched ring (it sounded like a tone D9 ~ 9.4 kHz). It was indeed a cry of nature, but it was not coming from outside. My ears did not hear it: this sound was made by my own neurons somewhere along the central auditory system. After having lived several years in NYC, and after spending ten hours in a jetliner the day before, my auditory neurons decided that that utter silence simply could not be true; deprived of any acoustic stimuli from outside they generated their own sound. Thus I heard the cry of wounded nature, a piece of nature right behind my temple bones.
     You can imagine how alarmed I was by this discovery. I asked my MD wife and later some of my friends: all assured me, that most likely it would adjust after spending some time in a quieter environment. I can confirm that that was the case: in a few days I could hear silence again without any high-pitched chords.
     So, please, don’t think that I am bizarre when you meet me in the subway covering my ears or sometimes with earplugs. I occasionally wear earplugs even for bed, especially when our neighborhood is particularly noisy. I am not going cuckoo, I just want to be able to hear cuckoos when I leave the city, I want to protect that part of nature between my ears, and not only for my own sake, but so that I can better hear nature when it sings of joy and especially when it cries for help.
    Truly the first step to appreciate the mystery of Nature's voice is to protect, appreciate and listen to the quiet: thus we can learn to hear again, and even the quiet-ones can be heard.


Martina crawling in Kula Kai Cave

2014/08/27

Surprising personality

Just imagine that almost all of us have another person living next to us in our apartments, cleaning our crumbs and occasionally also stealing from our cookie jars or causing some other minor mischief. Imagine that that person is living right in front of you and with you: in the wall, between the bricks, under the floor boards or behind the drywall. No, I am not getting peculiar or paranoid or both. Earlier this summer the Proceedings of The Royal Society B published an article documenting that ant nests of the same species (in that case rock ants - Temnothorax Rugatulus) develop different yet lasting behavioral traits depending on their environment and their prior experiences. In one word, not individual ants, but ant-nests have personalities: a nest becomes a person!
    I remember hearing something like that three decades ago from a family friend and naturalist/entomologist based just on his elemental observations. When you think about it, it actually makes very good sense. Social insects achieve high levels of cooperation and cohesion - their hives and nests often act as one entity. Now, let us do a little mathematics - an average ant worker has about 250,000 neurons; depending on the size of the nest (anything between several hundred to millions and even hundreds of millions of ants) it can have a combined neuronal capacity anywhere between a dog (hundreds of millions of neurons) all the way to a small team of scientists or even a medium-sized scientific institute (billions and trillions of neurons)!
    Ant nests clearly have the neuronal capacity to develop personality, and now it has been scientifically documented that they do this very thing. The biblical Book of Proverbs (30:25) made a similar observation many centuries ago: Ants are a nation without much strength, yet they are able to plan and store food for a lean season. Come this Sunday as we continue to reconnect with the ancient spiritual wisdom of our faith and celebrate not only ants but the all-embracing mystery of life. We will celebrate the life-giving spirit, a divine spark which we humans share with all creatures, large and small.


And next time you see an ant, perhaps even several of them, invading your home or kitchen, please consider mechanical cleaning of your detritus and crumbs rather than a cocktail of chemical poisons in a spray. It might kill off ants efficiently and quickly, but also quietly, inconspicuously, little by little, poison you and all our environment. With ant colonies we might share personality, but with individual ants we certainly share the divine spark of life, the same molecular physiology of life.

2014/08/20

Glassblowing God

Do you remember your first, or some other powerful childhood wonder? I was born and grew up in the glass-making part of the Czech Republic. My maternal grandfather worked in a glass factory making hardwood molds for glassmakers. I remember watching master craftsmen draw red-glowing blobs of molten glass from infernal ovens and blow them into the most sublime shapes. People call it hand-made glass, but from my youngest age I have known that the finest glass is in fact breath-made.
    It reminds me of a beautiful saying from the Gospel of Philip: “Glass carafe and earthenware jug are both made by means of fire. But if glass carafes break they are done over, for they came into being through a breath. If earthenware jugs break, however, they are destroyed, for they came into being without breath.” I know it is very unlikely to be Jesus’ own saying as blown glass was just appearing at this time and familiarity with glass belonged to a different social class. I also know that this saying from the Gospel of Philip is loaded with self-centered and self promoting sentiments. It was to illustrate the superiority of a glass blowing Christian(Gnostic) God over the Jewish God of the Hebrew Bible who was churning up just pottery... (Jeremiah 18)
    But this lovely metaphor does not need to be an antagonistic replacement, it can also be a genius update of the potter’s parable. The spiritual egotism of this gnostic saying can be eliminated as soon as we recognize The Master Glass-Maker at work not only in the elite group of the elect few, but in the forming and reshaping of the wide open world. After all, don’t volcanoes, with their infrared radiance and subsonic deep rumbling, look like some gigantic ovens? Doesn’t flowing lava look, move and behave much like molten glass? And just like a grain of gold melted in glass makes it ruby-red, or cobalt makes it unmistakably blue, or uranium teal green, so do different gasses, minerals and circumstances change colours and shapes of lava rocks. I guess my fascination with volcanos must have grown from my early childhood wonder.
    Different people have different early encounters with wonder. But the wonder itself is the same. And if we allow this wide-eyed child-like wonder enchantment to stay with us to adulthood, it has spectacular powers to keep our minds nimble, to inspire us, to ground us, and to keep us in harmony inside and outside. Come this Sunday to celebrate this mysterious power of our early wonders.


Glassblowing in Corning, NY and lava flowing near Kalapana, HI

2014/08/07

The Place of Healing

Do you have your Healing Place?
I do not mean a hospital or any walk-in-clinic.
I mean that special place where you feel calm, solace, connection and perhaps that kind of spiritual awe which is combination of respect and charm. I have several such places - some distant and some just around the corner. One such special place is even called Moku Ola, literally “The Place of Healing.”
 
   This Moku Ola is an island in the Hilo Bay, a place which was holy already to old Hawaiians. It was their ancient place of refuge, where sins and guilt were redeemed, and well being and harmony found. It was a place connected with a temple, royal fish ponds, surrounded with holy grounds. Unfortunately, in modern times, the fish ponds were turned into a park, the temple was destroyed, paved over and made into a parking lot, and the place of refuge became a popular picnic destination and a playground.
    Yet, no matter what modern insensitive people did to this place, it still is Moku Ola - the Healing Place. It is difficult to describe; it might be in its geography, its island nature, the embrace of the shore, the special air and smell, the angle of light and its reflexions, its unique and unbalanced horizon of ocean and mountains. For me this place still retains its special charm, it still is a special place to be and feel the presence of divine.*)
    And don’t worry, I am not succumbing to some virulent form of New-Age religiosity. This kind of recognition of such special spiritual places is in fact very Biblical **) and always has been part of our Christian faith tradition***), although it became partially suppressed and partially forgotten in modern times.
    This Sunday, the first in the series “Rainbow of Mysteries“, we will attempt to uncover this forgotten and neglected aspect of our faith tradition. We will seek to open our minds, eyes and senses to the Mystery of Presence and God’s Moku Ola the Healing Places in environment around us.


*) Ancient Hawaiians had a special class of priests called kuhikuhi pu‘uone (Literally: Experts in making heaps of sand) to seek appropriate places and to design houses and temples. They were indeed experts because there is hardly a religious place which would not be set in unique location, a place of worship without special atmosphere.

**) We will be talking about Jacob's dream at Beth-El (Genesis 28), but there are many other especially biblical instances of special places where the divine presence was noted and remembered.    
***) Many churches, monasteries, or places of pilgrimage were built in significant locations - on hill tops, by river confluences, near powerful springs... 

-----------------------
And here are pictures from some of my other healing places: St. Margaret Church on the Oppidum (abandoned iron age city) near Prague, or sunsets from the roof of our building.
Originally Romanesque church of St. Margaret near Prague
Sunsets over Hudson River from the roof of our building.

2014/08/05

Environmental prophet

“Our present combustion of fossil fuels threatens to change the chemistry of the Globe’s atmosphere as a whole, with consequences which we are only beginning to guess.”
 
    This was not written last Thursday but in December 1966. It was said by a person of bright mind and deep faith, a lifelong Presbyterian and medievalist by profession, Lynn White.
    White was a true modern prophet and as such he criticized our shared Judeo-Christian faith tradition. Monotheistic religions became the most anthropocentric religions the world has seen and as such enabled and justified exploitation of nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.
    Almost half a century ago White wrote “I personally doubt, that disastrous ecological backlash can be avoided simply by applying to our problems more science and more technology.” And like any true prophet he challenged his contemporaries to change something deeper: the way in which we relate to nature and our planet on the deepest emotional and religious levels. The only way out of our current ecological crisis leads through a change of mentality, through re-forming our religion, transforming our faith, reconnecting with God, while recognizing our human selves as part of nature.
    We will participate in this ongoing transformation through the remaining part of Summer.
1) Our worship in August and September will seek to reconnect our faith and nature inspired by Lutheran biblical scholar from Australia Norman Habel.
2) Our Vacation Bible School will pick up this environmental theme for one of its weeks
3) On September 21 we plan to join an environmental demonstration during the UN meeting on Climate Change.
4) On September 27 and 28 visiting scholar Tricia Tull will teach and preach about this theme.
5) And on one of these Sundays we plan to visit an environmental exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art.

(By the way, as a true prophet, Lynn White as early as in 1966 warned against the narrow-minded, disastrous, religiosity of then Governor of California - guess who it was - Ronald Reagan!)