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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Who owns faith?

Who owns faith? It is my understanding that Jesus wrenched ownership of faith away from the priests and handed it over to whoever has ears to hear. In other words, he restored it to its rightful owners. But it didn't take long for the 'organization' of Christianity to take root and again the priests hijacked back the faith that Jesus gave us. Sometimes I think theology is the art of wrenching faith from individual minds in order to claim ownership so as to organize and tidy up all that which is outside the domain of science and to institutionalize it, and in the process marginalizing those individuals that have active and questing minds, the former owners of faith. And for some who are fortunate enough to live in a time and place when and where the priests are weak, individuals can reclaim ownership of faith without fear of stakes and flames. Faith is not science, faith is not the provable, faith is what prevents us from becoming immobile, for some it is merely that which allows them to cross a street with confidence that some driver will not run them down. For others it is something never thought about, for them life is but a sequence of events which they merely move from one to the other in the most pleasant manner possible. But for me faith is the freedom to discern all thoughts, to seek the much better way, even when living in a changing world that promises nothing. So in the end the Bible is a book that one should be able to rip the pages from to start a campfire to cook the next meal, for only then does the Bible transform from a noun, a handful of paper and ink that one clings to, to a verb, to a life lived sacredly.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Light Bearer

Since those primeval nights we have sought to clothe evil in ever more elaborate finery, creating at times the garish and at others the sinister. So much so that we mistake the garb for the entity. In God's light all things stand naked, Truth is revealed and the nocturnal is exposed to the light of this Truth. Stripped naked evil quivers for what it is, the image of God denied. Free will is the agent.

Monday, December 25, 2006

O

O Wisdom
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, Thou encirclest the world from one end to the other, Thou orderest all things with might and mercy: O come to us and reveal the way of wisdom and of understanding O Wisdom.

O Adonai
Adonai, the Lord and leader of the house of Israel, In the burning bush hast thou appeared unto Moses And given him the law upon the mountain: O come and deliver us with thy powerful arm O come and deliver us with thy powerful arm O come and deliver us with thy powerful arm Adonaï

O Scion of Isaiah's Line
O Scion of Isaiah's Line, predestined to be a sign for The nations, The rulers of the earth fall silent before thee, The Nations cry unto thee: O come and save us, bestir thyself, delay no longer

O David's Key
O David's key, sceptre of the house of Israel, That which thou openest, none can secure, That which thou securest, no power may open; O come and unlock the prison of darkness and the fetters of death

O Morning Star
O morning star, incandescence of pure light, Radiant sun of righteousness; O come and enlighten Those who sit there in darkness And in the shadow of death.

O King of All Nations
O king of all nations, their expectation and desire, Keystone, which holds all things together: O come and save mankind, whom thou hast formed from clay! O king of all nations, their expectation and desire, Keystone, which holds all things together: O come and save mankind, whom thou hast formed from clay! O come and save mankind, O come and save mankind, whom thou hast formed from clay!

O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our king and counselor, Thou hope and saviour of the nations: O come, make haste to help us, Thou our Lord and our God, our God

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Thoughts of God?

This morning at break fast Bro. Simon handed me some folded papers and said it was an essay well worth reading. And after reading it, I agree. I don't know the author, other than a Bro. Wesley, but I found his thoughts provoking, and well worth sharing.


I believe in God.

Have you ever considered the matter of the universe in all its forms? Have you ever thought about the fact that an atom of carbon here on earth behaves the same as one 10,000,000 light years away? Or that that same carbon atom is 99.9999% - nothing - void - empty space. Or that while physicists attempt to understand it by describing it mathematically and smashing it to bits to see what happens, they can only imperfectly model it?

I believe an atom is a self-contained, perpetually active thought. It is a thought that physicists nearly, but not completely, understand.

Just as the simple laws of geometry - which like the fundamental forms of matter are small self-evident thoughts - can be brought together to "prove" more complex theorems, the fundamental forms of matter of this universe - the thoughts of this universe - come together to "prove" more complex things. Through their interplay we see stars and planets, black holes and oceans, mountains and streams. We, in fact, see Life!

I can not consider matter, itself, in its fundamental forms, nor especially in the form of its resultant proofs without knowing that it did not come about by accident.

Matter in its simplest forms are the thoughts of God made tangible just as I am the thoughts of God made tangible. When I think about this I wonder if I am a part of God, coming full circle through the miracle of his creative power, to introspect - to rediscover himself through his own creation?

There was a time when this aspect of God was all I believed. He was a God that created and wound up what we know as the universe and all its matter - perhaps even becoming the matter of the universe himself - but did not interfere and did not care. He was a God that didn't do miracles beyond the miracle of his own majesty - beyond the miracle of his own creation. This mathematical and physical view of Him did not seem to hear my prayers and did not love me. I was for Him an interesting result of His creation just as He was for me a subject of philosophical consideration.

This is what I believed and as far as I knew, I was alone.

But then I began to read about a man who said he was God's representative and that God was, in fact, Love. God had gotten involved and made this man specifically for us. If a physicist has an understanding of God's mind, this man had an understanding of God's heart. I could believe in God through the incomprehensible majesty of his creation but I could not access his love - his heart - his purpose - except through the words of the man who said he was his son.

I was an outsider - watching and thinking - amazed but alone. I believed in God's mind but not in his heart. But now I believe in Both.

This I also believe - I believe in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The luxury to ponder

The days have been cool, or cold, and the nights have been freezing, freezing cold, and with our very primitive heating system, I can say that warmth is but an imagined state that seems to keep me moving so that my imagination doesn't dwell upon it. So I've been taking many hikes into the desert, meandering hikes, and being bundled up to retain the heat that my body is producing, I attempt to maintain a sort of comfort zone, where I can amble to whatever catches my eye, yet not huff and puff enough to break into a sweat. While walking hither and thither I ponder about those folks that survive in harsh climates and wonder if they can ever find a state of comfort where they can forget the immediate environment and let their minds 'out of doors' so to speak, to dwell upon the abstract, even to have the luxury to ponder about the meaning of life. Just over a month ago I could lay back in my hammock and ponder the meaning of life, for the temperature was pleasant and my belly was full and everything seemed to make each moment as carefree as possible. But when one is uncomfortable, especially by the climate, then the mind cannot have the luxury of deep thoughts, for the shallow thoughts are all consuming. Like this morning, my toes were freezing, and until I remedied that situation to avoid frostbite, my brain would not let go. So off with the sandals and on with the extra-thick wool socks and on with the hiking boots, and after a bit my toes let go of my brain. So here I sit, somewhat comfortable, yet in my head a voice seems to whimper, "It's going to be freezing tonight! Why don't you purchase a modern heater!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reason

"For reason is a property of God's, since there is nothing which God, the creator of all things, has not foreseen, arranged and determined by reason; moreover, there is nothing He does not wish to be investigated and understood by reason."

"Reason without goodness is not reason, and goodness without reason is not goodness."

--Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian (160-230 AD)

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Ultimate Chef

"If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe."
-- Carl Sagan

Comfort vs Experience?

"Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn't have to experience it."

--Max Frisch

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Waning Gibbous

At the dining table last evening Bro. Simon asked Bro. Clarence, "When will we be able to see the moon through that contraption of yours?" Well, Bro. Clarence has been working off and on with the construction of a telescope, or as he calls it, "An eight inch Dobsonian." He allowed me to paint the exterior of the long 8-inch tube with a bit of whimsy, actually a take off of the Mexican artist Jose Posada's "Corrido El Cometa de 82"(Ballad of the Comet of 82). Well, this new telescope certainly does not look like the ordinary white-tubed astronomer's telescope, it looks like what a device that searches God's universe should look like, a wonderful and festive piece of art, that happens to also gather light. So while working on his tofu dish, Bro. Clarence looked at Bro. Simon and said matter of factly, "The Dobsonian is not for moon gazing, in fact that waning gibbous out there is causing the delay ... must await the new moon for a proper star party." Which I finally translated to mean that he is still calibrating his new device and wants to unveil it on a very dark wintery night, a night when the Milky Way shows itself off, and a night that a work of art, an 8-inch Dobsonian, would take a peek at the ultimate work of art, the starry night sky.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The inner experience

I was up on the ladder today clearing out the rain gutters and while shoving a garden hose down the down spout, Bro. Juniper spotting me and shouted up, "You gotta read this!" My reply was, "Turn the faucet on ... yes, over there ... full blast!" And he did turn the faucet on full blast and after a bit of snaking the garden hose up and down, whatever was clogging the spout freed up and the water flowed down freely. "Turn it off!" When I look down Bro. Juniper was now seated on a wooden bench near his rock and cacti garden, seemingly lost in his book. "Turn the water off!" I didn't want to leave the hose in the spout and climb down the ladder and turn off the water and then climb back up the ladder to remove the hose, and I didn't want to pull the full-blast garden hose from the down spout and attempt to aim the blast away while climbing down the ladder, so I yelled, "Juniper! Turn off the water!" Finally he responded, looked up with a puzzled expression on his face, then looked at the water flowing from the down spout, then seemed to put it all together and hurried to the faucet and turned off the water. "Thank you!" and he replied, "You gotta read this!" So with hose on the ground and ladder stored away, I returned to find him still nose to page. And I have to admit, I was nose to page until he pulled the book away, and we agreed that I would read it when he has finished it. Oh yes, the title: Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master

And here is the excerpt that got Bro. Juniper's attention:

This discovery of the inner self plays a familiar part in Christian mysticism. But there is a significant difference, which is clearly brought out by St. Augustine. In Zen there seems to be no effort to get beyond the inner self. In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the "mirror" in which He is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God "through a glass". All this is of course pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, Who is "in us." If we enter into ourselves, find our true self, and then pass "beyond" the inner "I", we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the "I AM" of the Almighty.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Graffiti on the east wall

It was rather early this morning when I strolled out into the desert, and freezing cold, for the desert cold is a bone chilling cold, a cold that keeps my steps quick, but cold enough that I can wander aimlessly while deep in thought, for in the warmth of Spring that would be a mistake, then one takes care where one steps, the eyes are always ten paces ahead, for to willy-nilly along a path is an invitation for a rattling good surprise. Rattlesnakes! But now too cold for anything, except for a wandering monk or two. It was on my return that I spotted Brother Clarence closely inspecting the adobe east wall. And then it caught my eye, scrawled in white chalk was: "Br. Clarence is a Naturalist!" A naturalist?! Hearing my approaching sandal steps he turned and what surprised me was that he was smiling broadly, a smile of both joy and glee. "What have we here?" I inquired. "Do you know the difference between a scientist and a naturalist?" His eyebrows raised and instead of attempting a quickly constructed reply, I raised my eyebrows in reply. That was enough, for he continued, "A scientist unweaves the rainbow, and a naturalist weaves it back together." Yes, I thought, and with that I too smiled and said, "How does poached eggs sound?"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

God does not exist!

Bro. Sedwick sure got our attention at the dinner meal, for most of the muttering going on was about our rain gutters and why they need immediate attention before the winter rains, and talk of desert thunderstorms and a culvert that needs to be cleared and bird nests that have clogged a gutter spout and broken gutters and around it went until Bro. Sedwick cleared his throat, then with two fist extended, a knife clenched in his left fist and a fork clenched in his right fist, together they came down upon the solid wood tabletop at the very moment he blurted out, "God does not exist!"

The entire dining room fell silent.

Bro. Sedwick, with knife and folk still in clenched fists, pounded the table a few times before saying, "Augustine rejected the notion that God waited an interminable length of time before deciding to create the universe, for as he wrote, 'the universe and time have the same beginning, God created time and the universe together.' whereupon Anselm of Canterbury got to the point when asking God, "In your eternity is there anything past, so that it does not exist now, or anything
future as if it does not exist yet? It is not that you existed yesterday and will exist tomorrow, but yesterday, today and tomorrow, you exist. On the contrary, you exist neither yesterday, nor today, nor tomorrow, rather you are simply beyond all time. For yesterday, today and tomorrow are nothing other than temporal. You, however, although nothing exists without you, are not thereby in place or time, but everything is in you. Nothing contains you, but you contain everything."

Many were now nodding their heads in agreement, Bro. Juniper was scribbling notes, and at that point I had guessed where this was going.

He continued, "If God is the source of existence, and non-being, then God is prior to those dualities, and therefore to speak of God's 'existence' is to cast God into the phenomenal world of time-space, and make God subject to its cause and effect."

At that point the two fists relaxed and Bro. Sedwick began sawing a rather tough Salisbury steak. I looked across at Bro. Clarence, who was now smiling broadly, and also sawing his steak, so after slathering my Salisbury with catsup, I noted the silence around the table, and I should note a rare silence, so with that I decided to enjoy it and began sawing my steak.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Matters of the heart and soul

I was thinking about the statement "Christ is my personal savior," and if I asked twelve different persons to describe what that means, I would most likely receive twelve different answers. And doesn't that makes sense?

If one has a close personal friend, that relationship is unique. So if I asked twelve different persons to describe their best friend, I would get twelve different answers. When I think of a best friend I think of someone that I can share matters of the heart and soul. I would go further and say close personal friendships are all about sharing, sharing in the most trusting way, sharing of thoughts, sharing of time, sharing of help, sharing of care; sharing that wants only sharing in return.

"Christ is my personal savior."

With Jesus I share my all, and in return? Jesus shares all with me.


Addendum from the break fast table

As this discussion made it to the break fast table this morning, Bro. Richard offered, "A personal relationship with Jesus is different insofar as we will never have the opportunity to know him in his earthly existence. The relationship must therefore be formed on what we can learn about Jesus secondhand rather than by a firsthand experience; but this is no different from forming a personal relationship with somebody by correspondence."

To which Bro. Sedwick countered with, "Does my reading of the collected letters of C.S. Lewis bring me into a personal relationship with Lewis?"

Then Bro. Simon declared, "I know God through Jesus."

And Bro. Juniper nodded in agreement, adding, "We are mere humans and God is God and will forever be beyond our comprehension were it not for God made flesh in Jesus."

Then Bro. Richard raised his fork and jabbed it a few times in the air and said he wished to clarify his meaning of "correspondence" by saying that praying directly to Jesus is more than letterwriting, because the words in the letters of Jesus (he explained he means the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels) are no ordinary words, but words that come alive in his life.

With that he looked to Bro. Sedwick who then asked, "Do you conjure up an image of Jesus inside your head, and to that image you pray to?"

Again Bro. Richard began swirling his fork in the air while attempting to clarified himself, saying that an image of Jesus created in his mind is more than a childish imaginary friend, but a symbolic meeting place where the material and the spiritual can intersect.

This prompted a rather excited Bro. Juniper to say, "The intersection of the material horizontal plane and the spiritual vertical plane, and at that intersection one can make a turn from the horizontal to the vertical. Without this intersection, one is forever living in the material world."

Slapping his fork down on the table Bro. Richard exclaimed, "Yes! It is on the horizontal plane (he picked up his knife and in a demonstration, held it horizontally before his face) that one 'knows about Jesus' and it is on the vertical plane (he quickly switched his knife from horizontal to vertical) that one 'knows Jesus'!"

After a bit of silence, Bro. Sedwick offered, "Perhaps the 'personal' in 'Jesus is my personal savior' is the 'me' of the equation, is my commitment to Christ my utmost personal concern?"

Bro. Sedwick looked directly at Bro. Richard and made a display of raising his eyebrows.

Then at the far end of the table I heard a clearing of the throat, then finishing his bowl of boiled oatmeal, Bro. Clarence seemed to wake to the discussion and said, "Yes, intellectual Christianity is certainly a cool affair ... I find the music of Miles Davis cool, I find my IBM Selectric typewriters cool, I find weaving hats from yucca cool, I find my telescope really cool, and thanks to Brother Bartleby (he pointed his spoon at me) for his really cool paint job ... and life is full of cool things, yet in all this coolness, without the hotness of the Word, it would all be nothing."

Bro. Sedwick let out a hardy laugh and said, "When your cool things move you from the horizontal world to the vertical world, then they act as the vehicle, they themselves are but the transporters, yet too many mistake the vehicles for the journey."

To which Bro. Clarence replied, "Not vehicles, but life buoys. That's how I picture these things in life that keep us afloat, good things, things that make the journey fun."

Just then we heard the bell let out a gong and with that we all pushed ourselves back from the table and Bro. Sedwick rose first and with a bit of finality, said, "Just make sure you keep a few of those life buoys on hand so that when you see others drifting in the seas of indifference, you have something to offer them."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Numbers made right

"There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all....It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe....The impression of design is overwhelming."
--Paul Davies (Astrophysicist)

Monday, November 20, 2006

I like Max

"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force... We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter."

"Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve."

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it"

"Anybody who has been seriously engaged is scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: 'Ye must have faith.' It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with."

"We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up until now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future."

--Max Planck (1858-1947)
Theoretical Physicist (who originated quantum theory)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Watch out for the hungry ones

Just a quick note this Sunday morning, when I presented the shed rattlesnake skin to Bro. Clarence Friday evening at the dining table, he quickly looked under the table, then made a rather frantic inspection of both the dining room and the kitchen, and only after all this did he say, "I should think we have a very hungry Diamondback in our company." Of course this raised eyebrows, and several brothers couldn't help but make frequent glances over their shoulders, or stoop to peer beneath the table. Without much ado, Bro. Juniper snatched the shed skin from the table and disappeared, and only later did we learn that he buried the skin outside the West wall. Of course by the time dessert was served, I received more than a few wary glances. Upon Bro. Juniper's return, Bro. Clarence said, "A rattlesnake that sheds its skin is most hungry, somewhat like one of us when we loosen a rather tight belt during the course of a meal, freeing the stomach for another pork chop or two."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Why rattlesnakes alway wear new suits

This morning as I was wandering about outside the East wall I came across the shed skin of a rattlesnake, like a translucent tissue covered with a pattern of tiny diamonds, it revealed a snake that I guess is near four feet in length. Unlike Bro. Clarence, I am not much fascinated by these creatures, I mean by that, if I never again cross paths with another rattlesnake, then I will feel blessed. Of course Bro. Clarence squeals with glee upon sighting any kind of critter, and the more exotic, for him the better. But this shed skin does tweak my imagination and I feel a metaphor coming on ... for how many times in our life do we need to shed our outer skin? I suppose if we never grow, then the old skin will do just fine, but how often do we feel that life is getting a bit tight, we try to stretch, but we can't, like wearing an old suit that may have once been comfortable, it now is tight and our every movement becomes an effort. So too with our mind. Can one live one's entire life with the same old thoughts, the same old ideas? Well, look around, many do. But when your thinking starts to get tight and uncomfortable, when new ideas just won't fit into your skull, then perhaps it's time to shed the old to make room for the new? Okay, metaphor finished, now time for me to head over to the dining room, and if lucky, I'll be able to surprise Bro. Clarence with this rattlesnake skin, for I'm sure he'll be delighted!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Talking Rocks

This afternoon Bro. Philip shared with us some of his photographs of petroglyphs, with most from a trip to the China Lake area. Bro. Clarence was very excited, so much so that already he is planning a visit to the area after the new year, of course I was the first to put my name on his sign-up sheet. If you are unfamiliar with the Native American petroglyphs in SE California, then take a look at some of Bro. Philip's photographs from his 2005 expedition:

http://palomar.edu/archaeology/

Near the bottom, center of the webpage, click on:
Archaeology Club Field Trip
to Petroglyphs at China Lake
November 2005

You'll be amazed at the beauty and mystery of these images chipped, scratched, or carved into the rock.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mystery attracts

The human eye is always on the alert for the extraordinary, for then alertness does indeed take place, I should imagine that chemicals such as adrenalin begin to flow and their purpose is realized for one important goal, to make sense of and to identify that which leaps out of the ordinary, and if sense isn't forthcoming and this extraordinary remains a mystery, then the mind joins the senses in imagining what exactly is this unknown, for mysteries awaken the slumbering mind and create an experience that dear Albert so wonderfully describes:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
--Albert Einstein

Which brings us to the point, mystery attracts.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Piercing the barrier

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
John 1:1-4


Without the Word, or logos, the exterior world would forever be separated from the interior. Interesting that the plasma membrane separates the interior of a cell from the outside environment, yet is porous, in that certain essentials are allowed through this barrier. Just so, words are the essentials that bridge our outer and inner world. It is as though one catches a falling leaf, and could ingest it, yet that would destroy the leaf, so one stares as an animal would at this leaf, but being human we can do more than just stare, we can transform this leaf into 'logos' and the words pass through the 'plasma membrane' and into the mind does now the leaf dwells! So too we can gather stars and mountains and oceans and tiny tadpoles, and with the logos of God, they all can enter and fit and dwell within our mind, with room left over for the rest of creation. Amazing!

All is flux, nothing stays still

It is interesting how we can create the ideal way of expressing our beliefs in our mind, and I think this is what organized religions do, collectively, they create the ideal, as though life were a nice tidy flowchart, yet life is anything but that, life is not "me" moving through time and space, but life is what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "All is flux, nothing stays still" with the example that one cannot step into a river twice exactly the same, for time passes, the river flows, and everything may 'look' the same, but everything isn't the same. Everything is constantly in motion, or change. So I find in Japan that even though someone may call themself a Buddhist, they may in everyday talk exclaim, "Oh! God help me to pass this exam." Or they may address deceased ancestors, as though they were in heaven. The Koreans at graveside talk to their deceased parents, telling them their current earthly situation. But so too Christians, they may speak outloud at a graveside, understanding that the loved one is in heaven, and their hope is that the loved one is listening (and watching?). I suppose my point is that theologians may come up with tidy religions, yet the everyday folk are simply trying to survive in their constant changing material and spiritual environment, and more often than not, this includes a theology that is in flux.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Religion of Light

Last evening Bro. Juniper further spoke about the early Chinese Christian church, telling of the stone monument, or 'Nestorian Stele' that was erected in 781 AD at the site where the Jesus Sutras were found. This monument, or stele, stands 10-feet high and is now in a museum in Xian. Here is but a small sample of the Chinese text (the stele also has Syriac text, which Bro. Juniper said is the 'alphabet' of Aramaic):

The true Lord is without origin,
Profound, invisible, and unchangeable;
With power and capacity to perfect and transform,
He raised up the earth and established the heavens.

Divided in nature, he entered the world,
To save and to help without bounds;
The sun arose, and darkness was dispelled,
All bearing witness to his true original.

The glorious and resplendent, accomplished Emperor,
Whose principles embraced those of preceding monarchs,
Taking advantage of the occasion, suppressed turbulence;
Heaven was spread out and the earth was enlarged.

When the pure, bright Illustrious Religion
Was introduced to our Tang Dynasty,
The Scriptures were translated, and churches built,
And the vessel set in motion for the living and the dead;
Every kind of blessing was then obtained,
And all the kingdoms enjoyed a state of peace.
...

His light penetrated the secrecies of men,
And to him the diversities of objects were seen as in a mirror;
He shed a vivifying influence through the whole realm of nature,
And all outer nations took him for example.

The true doctrine, how expansive!
Its responses are minute;
How difficult to name it!
To elucidate the three in one.

The sovereign has the power to act!
While the ministers record;
We raise this noble monument!
To the praise of great felicity.

This was erected in the 2d year of Kien-chung, of the Tang Dynasty [A.D. 781], on the 7th day of the 1st month, being Sunday.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Great Commission

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

At noontime meal Bro. Juniper spoke about the Jesus Sutra and before long the discussion revolved around mission and culture, or how the Gospel is 'shaded' by the culture of those who "Go therefore..." Shaded in the sense that the missionary 'sells' his culture as part of the 'deal' and so the new convert mistakes 'being born again in Christ' with 'being born again in Western culture.'

A different 'shading' would be what the new converts bring to their new religion. How does an Inuit relate to the image of sheep and shepherds? Or the image of bread to a Micronesian who would consider the banana the staple of life. So often what takes place is replacing the unfamiliar with the familiar in hopes of preserving the message.

Here is what Martin Palmer said in his speech on the Jesus Sutra:

"These astonishing sutras show us a Church from Persia to India to Tibet, which had fused its teachings with local traditions and from which radical new ideas of what it meant to be Christian had emerged. Let me just read you two pieces from these early Sutras.

In the Sutra, which we believe is modelled on the Milindapanha, which comes from the Gandharian area of present day Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is the belief in karma. Karma is of course the accumulated consequences of your actions which cause rebirth. At death, if you have still karma, then you must be reborn in order to try and get rid of it. The Sutra of Cause, Effect and Salvation take karma and reincarnation as the existentialist crisis, which Christ has come to solve. It knows nothing of Western beliefs about life after death, which we naturally expect to find it reflected in Christian texts. The Vedic world and Buddhist world believes in karma and reincarnation and thus the sutra addresses this:

'So it was that He existed before existing in His mother's womb. But to change your karma, you must exist in this physical world. A person can only change his karma residue by being born again into this world.

There was no other way to free us from sins but for Him to enter this world. So He came and suffered a life of rejection and pain before returning.'

Christ, in other words, has the answer to karma.

In the Sutra of Jesus Christ we find this radical reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments:

'The first and most important is to honour God. The second is to honour the Emperor. The third is to honour your parents. The fourth covenant is that anybody who understands the precepts should know to be kind and considerate to everything and to do no evil to anything that lives.

The fifth covenant is that any living thing should not only not take the life of another living being, but should also teach others to do likewise.'

From there on the commandments are the same."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The cat's out of the bag

Oh dear, is the cat out of the bag?? We at the monastery live a good life, and in the desert we find only the essentials, anything excess is either fried or eroded away. So on days like today, I find myself in my hammock, gazing at the blue sky, and mulling over what "Scientific American" or "Nature" have to say. And I think how wonderful it is, that we mere theologians can do this while the scientist (and even atheist scientist!?) do all the drudge work. Some toil night and day, discovering all the ins-and-outs of God's creations. Marvelous they are, these pesky drones that will not accept anything but what is truly a product of God! And then (can you believe it?) and then they question not the Designer of it all! For to do that would go beyond their mission in life, their mission is of nosing and parsing and untangling and then putting it all down on graph paper! Oh, are we lucky! I just have to thumb through the pages and read about this molecule or that fruit fly or this string of DNA or that string of a theory that perhaps shows that God did indeed 'weave' the entire cosmos, ahhh, String Theory ... can you imagine? Indeed, I get giddy over it all, and am most thankful that they have taken it upon themselves to further reveal what the Psalmist wrote about in the 19th of the Psalms. Thank you white-lab-coated scientist! For, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Passive Violence

Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce Without Morality
Science Without Humanity
Worship Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principles

--Mahatma Ghandi

Gandhi called these disbalances "passive violence," which fuels the active violence of crime, rebellion, and war. He said, "We could work 'til doomsday to achieve peace and would get nowhere as long as we ignore passive violence in our world."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Early Christians in China

At this evening's meal, Bro. Juniper gave us further details on the early Christians in China, from which the Jesus Sutras were found. The following is from a speech presented to the Asian Society in Hong Kong (2001) by Martin Palmer, who 'rediscovered' the north-central China Daqin Pagoda.

"Let me summarize what we have. We have a site, which according to Chinese contemporary documents was built in 650 AD, the second church to be built in China. It is the only surviving one and thus the oldest surviving Church site. We have statues in a pagoda built in 781 AD and the statues have been tentatively dated to 800 AD. We have Syriac graffiti and a site orientated east to west. In other words, we have the most important Christian antiquarian site in China. What is more, we have this church and pagoda, this monastery, built within the sacred compound of the huge Lou Guan Tai Taoist complex. This was the Imperial Temple of the Tang dynasty and here the Christians were allowed to build a church. Indeed the Emperor must have given them the site. It is as if the Hare Krishnas were given a site beside Canterbury Cathedral, or the Muslims were allowed to build a mosque in the grounds of the White House. It shows that the Church, far from being one amongst a number of strange western religions in Tang dynasty China, had a special place. This has revolutionised our understanding of the Church in China."

Bro. Juniper noted that Lou Guan Tai is the traditional site of Lao Tze's composition of the Tao Te Ching.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Jesus Sutras

Jesus:
"I study this myself - and yet there's no way to prove it.
Why is it like this? Because it cannot be proved
How can you define what is beyond definition?
This is why I say: no wanting, no doing, no piousness, no truth.
These are the four essential laws.
They cannot teach you in themselves
But follow them and you will be free."

(The Jesus Sutras were found in China in 1900, and have been dated at 635.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reality

Reality is all of which a story could be told.

The Jigsaw puzzle of Life

Over noontime meal yesterday, Bro. Jeffrey got me to thinking about the puzzles of life, and the human urge to not leave puzzles be, but to ponder them, to work on them, all in an attempt to solve them. But perhaps much of a puzzle is really in our minds, yet we project our fragmented thoughts to the external world of daily life and see bits and pieces, the imagined puzzle pieces, even believing that they are real, indeed puzzle pieces awaiting our knowing intelligence to fit the pieces "back" together to complete this imaginary whole. And in our confusion we turn to Jesus, and Jesus? He shrugs His shoulders and asks, "Have you read the instruction manual yet?" And we are taken aback, expecting the "instant Jesus answer" and to our bewilderment, we realize what we really need to do is the hard work, reading the instruction manual. So we pick up the Red-letter Bible and read the instructions. Anew. And when and if we "get it," then just perhaps, the jigsaw pieces fade and Jesus lets go with a swift kick in the seat of our pants -- yes, we really get it -- and we get back on the path and we get moving, for the journey isn't over yet, and the gas station stops are just that, relief stations along the way.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Telescope Kit

Bro. Clarence is busy right now building his new telescope, the kit arrived and after pondering the contents of the boxes, and pondering even longer over instruction sheets, he finally began work. He told me it is a 10" f/6 Dobsonian Reflector, which means little to us non-astronomers, but the 10" mirror does impress me, for I have done some viewing of the night sky through, I think, a 6" telescope. An astronomy club holds monthly star parties at the Joshua Tree National Park, and a few of us have ventured there and experienced the excitement that those star gazers express, and I think our appearance those nights caused a bit of a stir, for they said we were the first "monks" that have ever appeared at one of their parties. Well, that was then, now is now, and shortly we will have our own telescope to scan the night skies with. I admit, my knowledge of astronomy is limited to the fuzzy recollections of a college astronomy class. But I do recall, at the time, I was dazzled by the "numbers" involved in all that is "up there" over head. Just trying to grasp the distance in one light year (I just asked Bro. Clarence what that distance is, and he rattled this off without blinking: "A light year is 6 trillion miles.") 6,000,000,000,000 miles!!! And a while back I clipped this pedometer to my belt, just for the fun of it, and after a predawn stroll through the desert, I returned to the break fast table and checked my pedometer and found my trek came to 4.8 miles. Now how many morning strolls equals one light year? Anyway, I just returned and can report that Bro. Clarence is making slow headway, for now he is surrounded by four brothers, each peppering him with questions, of which I heard one answered, "Pluto is no longer a planet, but I understand that the folks at the Lowell Observatory maintain that Pluto is indeed a planet on all their brass plaques."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Crossed paths

This is taken from a 14th century 'guidebook' written by an anonymous English monk. I find an interesting intersection, it seems that here Christianity and Zen Buddhism crossed paths.

"Understand this clearly: your spiritual work is not in any physical place. But when your mind focuses, you are there in that place spiritually, as truly as your body is located in a place now. Your physical senses and faculties will find nothing to feed on and they will chide you for doing nothing. 

Go on with this nothing, moved only by your love of God. And let nothing interfere with this therefore but persevere in this nothingness, consciously desiring that you may always choose to possess God through love, whom no one can possess through knowledge. For myself I prefer to be lost in this nowhere, wrestling with this blind nothingness than to like some great lord travelling everywhere and enjoying the world as if he owned it."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sandal upon sand

Here in the Mojave the afternoons have been warm (80F) and the nights have suddenly cooled down, in the mid 40s, too cool for sleeping outdoors in my hammock, but each night brings us closer to those wonderful winter night skies when the Milky Way's boldness is a sight to behold. This morning at the break fast table Bro. Juniper shared some of his recent studies of the Desert Fathers, this a wonderful story told by Isaac from Syria (7th Century). It reminds us that we are the sailors of the desert, we walk the ancient seabeds, sandal upon sand, oasis to oasis, our course charted by the Word ... and prayer.

"When a sailor voyages in the midst of the sea, he watches the stars and in relation to them he guides his ship until he reaches harbor. But a monk watches prayer, because it sets him right and directs his course to that harbor toward which his discipline should lead. A monk gazes at prayer at all times, so that it might show him an island where he can anchor his ship and take on provisions; then once more he sets his course for another island. Such is the voyage of a monk in this life: he sails from one island to another, that is, from knowledge to knowledge, and by his successive change of islands, that is, of states of knowledge, he progresses until he emerges from the sea and his journey attains to that true city, whose inhabitants no longer engage in commerce but each rests upon his own riches. Blessed is the man who has not lost his course in this vain world, on this great sea! Blessed is the man whose ship has not broken up and who has reached harbor with joy!
--Isaac from Syria

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Baseball in the air

Now back to baseball, the wonderful thing about baseball is that you have the two foul lines that begin at home plate, yet they extend to eternity, and likewise the outfield has no limits, that is, the fence or wall but delineates a homerun, but that fence or wall is merely the beginning of where a homerun begins, but in theory, the outfield also extends to eternity, for a ball hit one inch over the wall is a homerun, ten feet over the wall is a homerun, 100 feet over the wall is a homerun, 1 mile over the wall is a homerun, 1 million miles over the wall is a homerun …
I love baseball.
So too Christianity when one views the outfield extending for eternity.

Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

The inner self

"The inner self is as secret as God and, like Him, it evades every concept that tries to seize hold of it with full possession. It is a life that cannot be held and studied as object, because it is not "a thing." It is not reached and coaxed forth from hiding by any process under the sun, including meditation. All that we can do with any spiritual discipline is produce within ourselves something of the silence, the humility, the detachment, the purity of heart and the indifference which are required if the inner self is to make some shy, unpredictable manifestation of his Presence."
--Thomas Merton "The Inner Experience"

Sunday sunrise

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

--Edward Abbey

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Desert dreams

Last night just before falling to sleep, I 'watched' myself falling into a sleep, and then in sleep, 'watched' myself sleeping, then as if free of myself, for myself was indeed sleeping, I was free to explore the desert from above, and with a simply flapping of the arms I was skyborne, and then the flapping stopped and flight was controlled by willing the direction I wished to go, except at times I would give a few mighty flaps and would soar among the clouds, then would will myself to glide lower and lower until just above the Joshua trees, I could not only observe the goings on of desert critters, but found I could focus on single grains of sand, or the blinking eye of a lizard, this ability to telescope my vision amazed me, and for the longest time I delighted in picking out tiny things, such as the pocked surface of a black volcanic rock or the brown speckled feathers of a cactus wren, this delighted me so much that I had to will myself to hover and not sink to the ground. This seemed to go on for hours, and then I discovered the most refreshing stream that coursed through the sand, a stream that I am at a lost to explain, for I have never seen such a stream in the desert, but there it was, the surface a swirl of white froth, then a large pool of still water, and before I knew it I dove into that pool and found myself beneath the surface looking up, as though viewing the cloudy sky through crystal glass with glints of sunlight dancing on the surface bubbles. And then I awoke. The room pitch black except for the tiny window, which I now stood before and beheld a dazzling starry night, and wondered, was this too a dream.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Flies in for a closer look

This afternoon Bro. Sedwick produced a small plastic pill bottle in which was a rather odd insect, or I should say beetle, he said he found the beetle near his garden and when he picked up the creature, it gave him a bit of a bite, or more exactly, secreted some caustic substance that produced an instant blister on Bro. Sedwick's finger. Bro. Clarence retreated to his library and returned with his 'beetle book' and after not too long pronounced that it was a 'blister beetle' to the delight of all, that is, except Bro. Sedwick. After a bit more research Bro. Clarence came up with this rather interesting information on this beetle, which had us passing around the plastic pill bottle and each of us inspecting this most amazing critter in light of our new found bafflement over how this beetle 'learned' all these various tricks of survival.

"Life in the Mojave Desert can be tough and requires some creativity to survive, and few species are as creative as the blister beetle. They are parasitic creatures and their larvae need to get into the underground nests of a local solitary bee to feed on her provisions and molt into beetles. But getting across the desert is tough for a 2 mm-long larva. Instead of trying to walk across the hot sand, they form clusters on the stems of plants and collectively mimic the sex pheromones of a female bee to attract the male bees. Not only that, but they clump together into a mass that physically resembles a female bee. When the male flies in for a closer look, the larvae grab onto him and fly with him to a real female bee, then grab onto her when the two are mating, and fly with the female bee back to her nest. It’s a case of chemical mimicry and collaboration not seen before in the insect world."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Notes on the fly sheet of a tattered copy of The Old Man and the Sea

I find that mumbling to myself a bit as well as wrestling with imaginations of God as well as being confused by just ‘being’ as well as catching a glimpse of eternity every now and then as well as delighting in ‘just being’ as well as being unsure and then being sure and then again finding surety in every breath one takes while at the same time contemplating things unknown while searching the path for another fingerprint left behind by God.
-- Big Sur 1977

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Did Jesus experience guilt?

Last evening at the dining table we were discussing the humanity of Jesus, and it was Bro. Simon who thought that Jesus could not have experienced guilt, for Jesus was sinless. I must admit, the discussion went all over the table until in the wee hours we had to quit the talk and retire for the night. So today I'll try to gather some of that discussion and will only say that most of what I now write is both my previous thoughts as well as what I gathered last night and have allowed to soak in and now I think it fair to say are my current beliefs on the subject. So ...

Square one -- birth. Do I experience guilt or am I guilty for being born? The usual meaning of guilty is a willful act by one, and the act is usually defined to be an act of wrongness. So is one guilty of anything upon taking that first crying breath? Or are we born innocent? Of course we can find lots of guilty acts after the babe has developed the very basic thought process of right and wrong. But at birth? I would think not. I would think we have a nature that includes a 'mechanism of guilt' just as our body includes a mechanism of pain, both are unpleasant, yet are necessary warning devices. If one ignores the warning of pain, then great harm may result to the body, just so with guilt, if one ignores the warning of guilt, then great harm to the soul may result.

"When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself."

I wonder, in this time of grief and mourning, wouldn't it be human for Jesus to experience the emotion of guilt, perhaps thinking that he could have saved John from that fate? Of course 'guilt' in English has many meanings, but in this case I would think that one could experience feelings of guilt, not for the actual death of John, but the guilt we all experience when something unpleasant comes to someone we care about, yet we think that just maybe if we were more attentive, or if we paid a bit more attention, then perhaps we could have prevented the harm that befell our friend.

This kind of guilt being the internal or subjective guilt, as opposed to the objective, or the group/society standard or laws, which are a different question. Jesus was guilty of breaking the laws of his society, yet he didn't have feelings of guilt, for he knew the laws unjust.

And I think what I mean by the 'mechanism of guilt' is somewhat akin to Freud's superego, or the parental imprint that shapes part of our being, so in a good upbringing, when the parents instill good values in us, then later in life when we knowingly or unknowingly are about to act against those 'imprinted' values, one feels guilt (and again, this simple word guilt has many meanings, in this instance, we may also have values imprinted upon us from schooling, from society, etc). In this example I'm saying these values were good values, but that is hardly the case for us all, we are imprinted with a mixed bag of values, and if one were unfortunate to have poor or bad parents, one's values may be poor. And if those poor values are not rectified while growing up, one may find oneself a lost and wandering soul.

So, I would say the mechanism of guilt in a person that has developed good healthy values is a wonderful warning device, but that same 'guilt mechanism' in a person that has a mixed bag of confused values, could be not a warning device, but a tormentor.

An example would be the child who grows up with parents who teach that fighting and arguing and all sorts of bad behavior are normal. This would become the child's values. Aggression and thuggery would be normal for this person, with acts of kindness and good behavior producing feelings of guilt. In other words, being nice would raise the warning flag -- feelings of guilt -- in this person, who may respond to these feeling by going out and beating someone up! Guilt in this person creates perversion, yet guilt in a decent person would reinforce good behavior.

I admit this is a bit muddled, but sometimes it is okay to be a bit muddled and feel no guilt about it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tiny windows of opportunity

The desert is a place where all certainty is uncertainty, where reality is a mirage, where a mirage becomes reality, where the wind tests all that dares to challenge it, and the challengers that survive are never the same, erosion bares all with softness the first to go, hardness is the survivor and adaptability coming in a strong second. At the last moment Bro. Clarence came up with a new plan, so we treked to Arizona via Bro. Juniper's pickup truck and found our starting point on the Navajo tribal lands and were well into our hike when the skies darkened and we were 'treated' to what I can only describe as an enormous thunderstorm which I can only thank God that we were on high ground when the normal dry lands quickly saturated and the former dry washes were roiling with mud and water. Now I must add water to the wind that forms and shapes the desertscape, for upon our return many of the hiking trails had simply disappeared, washed away, which made navigation a bit more of a challenge, but while under the still darkened skies I could only imagine what this soaked desert will look like in the coming months when long dormant seeds take advantage of their tiny window of opportunity and come to life, for a desert in bloom is a sight to behold!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What stranger miracles are there?

Yesterday Bro. Juniper picked up a copy of "Leaves of Grass" from a used book store, and just moments ago, outside with but lantern light, read "Miracles" to himself, to those of us still sorting through our seeds and nuts, and to the overhead canopy of stars.

Miracles

WHY! who makes much of a miracle?  
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,  
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,  
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,  
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,  
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,  
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,  
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,  
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,  
Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,  
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of stars shining so quiet and bright,  
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;  
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to the opera,  
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,  
Or behold children at their sports,  
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman,  
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;  
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,  
The whole referring—yet each distinct, and in its place.  
  
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,  
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,  
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;  
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them,  
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.  
  
To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships, with men in them,  
What stranger miracles are there?

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
Leaves of Grass

Preparing for the journey

Bro. Clarence and Bro. Juniper returned with the pickup truck filled with seeds and nuts and grains and dried fruits and an assortment of ingredients that will become our diet for next week, some call it trail mix. I understand that Bro. Clarence will be collecting yucca leaves, or I should say, the fibers from the yucca that he will use in his ongoing weaving projects. Most of us are now sporting woven yucca fiber hats, a few with woven yucca fiber sandals, and I can only imagine what his creative mind will come up with next. But for today and tomorrow, several of us will be mixing and bagging our trail mix, and with this vacuum contraption that Bro. Juniper purchased, we will be filling plastic bags with trail mix, then the bags will be vacuumed-packed for long term storage.

On another note, Bro. Robert said something interesting during our noontime meal: "Many people believe that you must first somehow decide whether or not God exists before joining a religion, but the opposite is true. One becomes religious so as to make God present in one’s life. Whether or not God exists is a separate issue. The important point is to make him present and real, and thus inhabit the space where our true humanness emerges."

I thought this is very fitting with Rosh Hashanah just past, the Jewish New Year, the time of reflection, the time to ponder who we now are and who we wish to be or become, and as is his custom, Bro. Sedwick sounded his shofar, the rams horn, the trumpeting that awakens us all from our slumber and reminds us of the coming judgment, and hearing this I ask myself, can one as Bro. Robert suggests immerse oneself in the unknown, at least unknown for the one taking the leap, and upon this new and uncharted path that one then finds oneself, can one experience a newness that one had never experienced before?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A time for retreat

Bro. Clarence along with Bro. Juniper have departed on a mission to Barstow to pick up some provisions for our anticipated retreat the first week of October. A few of us have decided that with the dropping of the daytime temperature, that we take advantage of it and will do a bit of desert hiking and camping for a week. I must admit, I do need to retreat from electricity and all things electrified from time to time. We do keep these sort of retreats very simply, none of the modern camping gear, certainly no global positioning devices, but I will have an old Boy Scout compass, and a hand drawn map that late Bro. Donovan left us. He was a true trailblazer, and if one simply follows the lines drawn on his numerous maps, one will not fail to be taken on an extraordinary journey through this Mojave landscape. Oh yes, as Bro. Clarence was getting into the pickup truck, he handed me this handwritten paper, and with no time to explain, he simply said, "Something to discuss upon my return." With that, the pickup sped away, and for half an hour I could still see a far off swirl of dust and could only imagine Bro. Clarence holding on for dear life as Bro. Juniper, behind the wheel, drove that dirt road like it was the Indy speedway.

Bro. Clarence's handwritten note:

"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

For He spoke and they came into being

During break fast, Bro. Juniper was musing about Psalm 148, which I do think was prompted by his predawn desert walk, which I admit, put me too in the same frame of mind. First he questioned just how does the wind, or a cloud praise God? How does a tree praise God? How does the rain, or how does a rock praise God? As you can imagine, the break fast table remained silent, awaiting Bro. Juniper's "punch line" which was, each creation gives praise by its being itself. A tree is a tree and by being a tree it shouts to the universe, a tree I am, just so. But then Bro. Clarence questioned humans, can a human give praise to God just by being itself? He thought not, for of all creation, only humans can choose to be not what they are to be. Which Bro. Sedwick thought gave whole new meaning to Hamlet's "To be, or not to be." With that we heard shouts from outside, break fast was over, there is work to be done, yes, another chance to be human, another chance to praise God.
Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

Psalm 148
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise Him on high!
Praise Him, all His angels! Praise Him, all His army!
Praise Him, sun and moon! Praise Him, all you shining stars!
Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord! For He spoke and they came into being.
He has made them last forever and ever. He has set a Law which will not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you large sea animals and all seas, fire and hail, snow and clouds, and wind storms, obeying His Word.
Praise the Lord, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all tall trees, wild animals and all cattle, small animals that move on the ground and birds that fly, kings of the earth and all people, princes and all leaders of the earth, both young men and women who have never had men, and old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord. For His name alone is honored. His shining-greatness is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for His people, praise for all who belong to Him, for the people of Israel, who are near to Him. Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Doubt?

How can a rabbi not live with doubt? The Bible itself is a book of doubt.
--Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg

Monday, September 18, 2006

Where were you?

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
--Job 38:4-7

Friday, September 15, 2006

Monkeying around

"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."
-- Frederick Hoyle (British astrophysicist)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Do you think that is really small?

This evening at the dining table Bro. Juniper produced a tiny artifact, held in the palm of his hand, yet for the life of me, for I was seated across the dining table, his palm appeared to be empty. "See," he said as he thrust his open hand under the nose of Bro. Simon. "You mean that?" Bro. Simon blurted, his brow furrowed as his nose actually touched Bro. Juniper's hand. "Exactly," replied Bro. Juniper with a bit of bravado in his voice, "a grain of sand!" And with that he plucked the grain of sand up and held it for all to see, yet I confess I still could not see that grain of sand, and now scooting his chair back, Bro. Juniper quickly rose and after clearing his throat, recited William Blake:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour..."
With that Bro. Clarence, with chicken drumstick still in hand, said, "Do you think that is really small?" Bro. Juniper turned to Bro. Clarence and said, "Yes." Bro. Clarence, seated at the end of the table, finished picking his drumstick clean, then paused while wiping his hands on a napkin, then said, "In string theory, the average size of a string is somewhere near the length scale of quantum gravity ... that called the Planck length ..." and now finished with his hands, Bro. Clarence rolled the napkin into a ball, and continued, "do you understand that the Planck length is about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter?" Then with the tiny compacted spitball of a napkin, he positioned it between his "spring loaded" middle finger and thumb, then released the spitball into the air, sailing over Bro. Juniper's head while saying, "I think you're poetic grain of sand is about the size of Jupiter in comparison to that spitball ..." With that, Bro. Juniper burst into laughter, and so too Bro. Clarence.

The pith of the pithy few

"Naturally there are many forms of stupid religion, for there is nothing touched by humans that cannot be made stupid. But at least religion as such does not exclude the possibility and priority of Intelligence, and therefore, Truth."

Over at One Cosmos One Cosmos: Atheism and Other Attacks on Mind Bro. Bob is the pith of the pithy few, habitually straying off the beaten paths, yet never failing to discover gems and nuggets that all others have overlooked on those less travelled ways. He will open your eyes, your mind, make you shake your head, sometimes in disbelief, sometimes in disagreement, but that is how it should be.

Friday, September 08, 2006

a Verb

"God, to me, it seems, is a verb, not a noun, proper or improper."

-- Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)


[Rethinking the Lord's Pray, Fuller came up with a new version each night! But here is one version from 1976 "Being With Bucky"]

Our God, who art in we even,
even we who know most intimately
of our own weaknesses, failures, faults, and outright sins
our selfishness, fear and cupidity,
of our moments of jealousy, rage and hate
secret cover-ups, lies and self-deceits
God even of we
Our God -- our intuitively-apprehended comprehensive-admonisher
Omni-experienced is your identity,
the everywhere and everywhen evolving omnireality
is your presence

and as the reality differs _uniquely_ from moment to moment
in respect to each individual
so do you speak to each
in exquisitely relevant, instructive terms
regarding that which the individual
can most effectively do
not in behalf of self
but in behalf of all humanity

and Thus in support of the intellectual functioning of humans
thereby in local universe support
of the eternal integrity of omniregenerative universe
which is God.

As omniexperience, you have given us
overwhelming manifest
of your complete knowledge
your complete comprehension
your complete concern
your complete wisdom
your complete responsibility
your complete co-ordination
your complete competence to cope
with any and all problems
and of your utter reliability
always so to do
Yours, dear God, is all the glory.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Desert Island Book

Bro. Cosmos has recommended this:

Meditations on the Tarot, by Anonymous.

"First of all, don’t be put off by the title, because it’s not really about the tarot per se. Rather, the author simply uses the cards as archetypal launch pads that inspire among the deepest and most wide-ranging meditations on spirituality I’ve ever encountered."

I hope to read it soon, and before the other brothers chime in with their desert island picks.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

When bad skeptics became good skeptics

What I find most interesting is how the negative attributes of folks in the past became positive attributes when the scientific method took root. The doubters and the skeptics of the past, all the attributes that the church frowned upon, became the lifeblood of science -- organized skepticism. Rome would never reward the doubting bishop, yet the scientific community embraces the doubters, that is, as long as the doubters and skeptics can prove their doubts. Doubts and rewards, the driving force of science. Present your theory, and you have just invited all your colleagues to punch holes in it, yet if they can't, then you're the hero of the day! And this is why traditional organized religion has been left behind, those that yield not to challenge and debate, those that still scorn doubt and skepticism, must either retreat to their sheltered enclaves, or prepare themselves for many bloody noses in the days ahead.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open.
--Thomas Merton

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Note scribbled on the back of a birthday card

Jesus returns every time a lost soul drinks of the living water, is born again: with new eyes opened, sees; with new heart beating, understands; with new life purpose, acts. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Wonder Inciting World

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
--Shakespeare (Macbeth V.v)  

I awake each morning and upon opening my eyes, I’m amazed and astonished and marvel at the wonder inciting world that I wake to, my first thought urges me to thank my Creator, and this I do, for the gift of life, and I do believe it a gift, is far more than my mind can fully grasp. To actually believe and feel that we are but poor players on the stage of life in some sort of shoddy charade is beyond my reality. For those who think this, I can only think that poor health or an illness could bring one to such a state, for I understand that illness can deliver a punch that can knock the wind from one’s soul. But if one is in reasonable health, and still is of this existential nature, then I think one either knowingly or unknowingly has turned from God, for when one seeks not God, then more often than not, one seeks self, or unwittingly, dwells on self. When brain chemistry is not an issue and one is losing grip on life, then turning oneself around and facing the Creator can be the most important act of one’s life. Seeking God will change a life of nothingness to a life of gratefulness, a life of waking each morning to wonder inciting life! And you’ll need an instruction manual. The instruction manual I always recommend is the “red letter” Bible. Go to a book store and find a Bible with all of Jesus’ quotes printed in red ink, then take it home and begin your new life, and at first, don’t dwell on the black text, just spend your time taking in all that is red.

Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

Notes on another napkin

Hamlet: “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

Only humans live in a world of 'appearances' because 'thinking' stands between reality and perceiving reality.

The question becomes, can one attune one's thinking in a way to allow reality in? And secondly, if so, can we handle reality?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Notes on a napkin

Humans seek their origins.
Some deny or are blind to this and simply seek pleasure and comfort in life for as long as possible.
Some utilize the scientific method and spend their life attempting to reconstruct a bit of the 'crime scene' in hopes their findings will be 'life by natural causes' and their end 'death by natural causes'.
But the theist accepts meaning for the universe and spend their life using their minds to discern the meaning so that they can make themselves in accord with the meaning.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What makes a good point?

A good 'point' is like a cacti needle that pricks the skin unnoticed until much later when the 'point' begins to throb for attention.

Friday, August 25, 2006

God, Joshua, and Tegeticula yuccasella

Here in the desert a most interesting relationship exists between Joshua tree and moth, so striking that science calls it coevolution, for Joshua tree (a type of yucca) is dependent on moth, likewise moth is dependent on Joshua tree. Bro. Clarence, with his ever ready field guides, sought to explain this relationship, or more properly 'mutualism,' as we ate our noontime meal. Of course many insects pollinate flowers, yet most are sort of accidental pollinators, a bee seeks nectar and in the process, and with no intent on the bee's part, the bee comes into contact with pollen and the pollen sticks to the bee and the bee moves to another blossom and pollen is transferred. This as Bro. Clarence says is a sort of accidental, yet beneficial, happenstance to both the bee and the plant. But with the Joshua tree, neither accident nor happenstance takes place. In the still of the desert night the white female yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella) seeks the Joshua tree and enters a white flower and gathers the sticky pollen (a pollen that cannot be broadcast by wind or bee). To gather the sticky pollen, the moth has a pair of long, curved, prehensile appendages near the mouth, specialized tools to collect and form the sticky pollen into a ball, of which is held 'under the chin' so to speak. And off the moth goes to another Joshua tree, where she enters a flower and uses her specialized egg-laying device (called an ovipositor), inserting it through the ovary wall and depositing an egg into the ovule chamber. Next comes pollination, the moth moves to the top of the ovary and still carrying the sticky pollen ball from the previous Joshua tree, she presses the pollen into the ovary, thus completing the fertilization of the flower. Now, as the seeds develop inside this particular ovary, they will provide future food for the hungry moth larva. And so it goes, without the Joshua tree flower, yucca moths would die off in one generation; without the moth, the Joshua tree would never be pollinated, for no other moth, bee, insect, or even wind, seek out the sticky Joshua tree pollen.

This provoked Bro. Simon to question if God has a blueprint for all these minute details of creation, a kind of grand master blueprint of all creation, a blueprint so grand that included would be details of the yucca moth's 'prehensile appendages' and programming for the yucca moth's tiny brain with not only instructions for identifying Joshua trees, but where exactly to insert 'ovipositor' and on and on and on. Bro. Clarence thinks otherwise, he imagines that God has blueprints for all the 'laws of nature' yet God delights in setting things in motion, and within some sort of unknown to us boundaries, allows life to blossom within these boundaries -- perhaps even boundaries withing boundaries within boundaries. Bro. Sedwick thinks not, for God is timeless, exists (if that word can be used in this instance) outside of time, so God views our universe as past and present and future, all at once. Of course this brought protest from Bro. Juniper, he thinking that even though God be outside of time, but when interacting with His Creation, God chooses to enter our time/space, for this would be the only way a relationship with humans could be possible. Bro. Sedwick thinks all this speculation far too simplistic, for a Creator of the Universe has far more tools in His toolbox than our tiny minds can ever imagine.

With that I excused myself in order to gather my rucksack, I want to pay a visit to a certain Joshua tree tonight, and perhaps, I too may witness a miracle.

Joshua 23:14
“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one thing has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Desert on Fire

A blazing summer night
sky filled Milky Way
below Joshua trees burst
into flames and overhead
seven forty sevens glide
while a thousand eyes
gather with awe
at the sight
below the Mojave
in flames

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The tallest sunflower

After much climbing up and down a step-ladder, yesterday I determined that Bro. Clarence's sunflower was indeed the tallest at 14 feet 7 inches, which beat out Bro. Juniper's rather spindly, yet tall sunflower, by three inches. I should note that the growing techniques were completely opposite, Bro. Juniper never seemed to do anything after planting the seed, of course besides watering, yet Bro. Clarence can always be found at or near his sunflowers, and as our deadline neared, he has set up a chair and umbrella near his sunflowers. And we still have a few weeks before we will be measuring the sunflower heads, so no doubt he will continue his vigil.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Midnight ramblings

Biologist understand that in nature change (or evolution) is moved forward by strategies, how organisms 'work together' to survive. Let's look at two strategies, TFT and WSLS. TFT (tit-for-tat) is a strategy within a group (be that group humans, or that group animals, or plants, or even a group of microorganisms), when individuals of the group treat one another in a like manner -- tit-for-tat. When successful, a sort of cooperation is maintained, say in a flock of chickens, for when one chicken 'acts up' then the others will too act up and turn against that one chicken and soon that one chicken will either flee, or will get with the program. Tit-for-Tat is alive and well in many office environments, of course its major drawback is that it can degrade into perpetual warfare. The second strategy is the Win-Stay, Lose-Shift (WSLS), which means that the group will all work together as long as they are 'winning' but once their behavior creates a 'lose' situation, then they shift their strategy until they begin 'winning' again. Virus love this strategy, once humans concoct a vaccine, the virus find they are losing, they 'shift' or evolve a bit to render the vaccine impotent, then are once again on the 'winning' path. Of course winning and losing in evolution is the difference between a life-forms' survival or not. I think that God has built these 'strategies' into all living forms, and that is what keeps life going, what keeps life becoming ever more diverse, what keeps life ever dynamic. And my point? Too many Christians believe that God has only one strategy when it comes to 'awakening' humans. They believe that God does things only one way. Of course they will flip through the Bible and piece together that 'prescribed way.' Well, I think God has more strategies than any one of us can ever imagine (just look at His creations!). I can't help but think that some isolated soul in the Amazon jungles may be speaking daily with God. And God responding. Have you ever wondered why Jesus, when speaking with the Roman soldier, the centurion, that he didn't try to convert him? In fact, he used the soldier's great faith as an example for the crowd: "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." And then again, when the rich young man comes to Jesus and asks how he can inherit eternal life, Jesus ministers to the rich man, yet the rich young man wants to be perfect, and with that Jesus gives the price for those who demand perfection -- they must give all. So, in just two examples, Jesus interacts differently, Jesus is flexible, in fact he was his most vocal when it came to the rigidity of the then Temple leaders. And the Temple leaders, perhaps like most leaders, were stuck playing tit-for-tat even when it devolved into a downward spiral.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I am dead to the world

Bro. Chris, aka Desert Pastor, got me to thinking about what Paul is saying in Galatians 6:14:

"As for me, however, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for by means of his cross the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world." (TEV)

Bro. Bartleby:
First and foremost I think crucified and cross mean death. Death of what? For Paul (and us?), Jesus' death/cross/crucifixion is the righting of the God-man separation that took place in Eden, that the final sacrifice has taken place, no longer must any living creature need be sacrificed to appease God (or our human thought that God need be appeased?). So it is the death of 'living separated from God' that opens the door for a return to God, and for us, Jesus is that door. Jesus is that which makes the unknowable God knowable, Jesus makes the invisible God visible. We follow/emulate/model Jesus in order to make right our own likeness in the image of God. Paul can no longer follow his old desires -- the desires of the world -- they are dead (cross), and so too, the worldly folks see Paul as dead, for he has none of their interests, none of their desires, so for them, Paul is dead -- "I am dead to the world."


Bro. Chris:
So... Paul has none of the world's interests or desires, but that doesn't keep him from drawing upon their customs or beliefs when it comes to sharing the gospel (e.g. Acts 17:16-34), right? Because being "versed" in the world and it's ways is not what's at stake here. It's the values we live by and the allegiance we profess (in our case, to God's kingdom) -- it's in things such as these that we are dead to the world and it to us, yes?

Bro. Bartleby:
I would think Paul had none of the world's "perverse" interests or desires, it is as though one day you are tempted my many tempters and temptations, yet the next day "all that" tempts you not. What can cause such a dramatic change in how one perceives and experiences life and the world? Of course for Christians it is making that great turn-around, that being born again -- Christ replaces all former worldly standards -- Christ is your carpenter's level and plumb-line to measure yourself against. In my youthful folly, my standards were cool movie actors and fast hot rods and sexy girls, and if I could only emulate a cool actor, own a muscle car, date a sexy girl, then all would be right in the world, for I would have heaven on earth! Yet a seemingly simply altar call transformed me overnight, all the former standards were reduced to what they were and are, actors are actors, they act; hot rods are shiny machines that entice and transport, nothing more; sexy girls are females not taken seriously. The next day friends are heading to the drag races while I head to the mountains to meditate and pray ... their world dead to me, my "new" world dead to them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A mind of its own

Family, community, society, all fill and form the developing mind of the young, that is, until that mind 'takes on a mind of its own' and temperament mixed with personality mixed with education mixed with all that other stuff that was stuffed into our skull forms our person, and that person can be new and free and developing, or it may be locked into its youthful formation. So too our spiritual development, for some that youthful development is it, locked into place, development or change doesn't seem to be an option. Why? Usually because those who were feeding stuff into our youthful minds did it in a way that made freedom and freethinking a negative trait that should be shunned. The glue that holds family, community, society together is tradition. Tradition places great value on the past, as it should in most instances, yet tradition by its nature 'wants you' to keep all that was put into your youthful mind as well enough, and warns that further free thoughts could be not only damaging to your well being, but to your eternal future. That is why Jesus said that if you follow Him, you may very well be separated from family, from tradition. To follow Jesus, one may very well have to break with tradition, and for the apostles, it was a break with traditional Judaism, for you and I, it may mean a break from all that stuff that formed our youthful minds. I shudder to think of the state of the minds of all those North Koreans that have been brainwashed from birth ... yes, the extreme example, yet it is easy for us on the outside to see that for them to cut from their tradition is the only way, but for them, a thought such as that is unthinkable.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Uncle Max and Standards

Since I completed the new cross in the chapel, I have received some comments as well as one complaint, that being that I was 'fooling around with' the true cross, yet I will not name names, for the dear brother refused to engage in a discussion about his dislike of the "carpenter's level and plumb-line" cross, so I don't know exactly what his objections are. Bro. Simon was delighted with the new cross, this morning at break fast he was discussing the symbolism of "Jesus' tools of his trade" as they relate to Amos 7:8.

"And the LORD said unto me: 'Amos, what seest thou?' And I said: 'A plumb-line.' Then said the Lord: Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of My people Israel; I will not again pardon them any more..."

And Bro. Simon went on about how this new cross reminds us that Jesus is the standard to which we measure ourselves, for without a standard, folks could become so 'crooked' that no one would even notice, for everyone would be 'crooked,' but with Jesus, like the perfectly straight plumb-line, we can stand next to the plumb-line to see just how 'crooked' we have become. And Bro. Simon went on about the carpenter level, and how a tilted foundation produces a tilted abode.

It was then that Abbot Eastley raised his fork toward Bro. Simon, then with a gentle smile he related this story, the origins of both the carpenter's level and plumb-bob that were used in the new cross.

When John Eastley was about 12 years of age, he spent a summer week with his uncle, Uncle Max, who was a carpenter, not just a common carpenter, but one possessing the craftsman's tradition. It was then that the young John learned the value of the indispensable carpenter's level when he watched in awe as Uncle Max supervised a crew of carpenters constructing a wood-frame Cape Cod style house. The very carpenter’s level used for the cross was then used by Uncle Max to keep his carpenters "working on the level," and the young John recalls "playing" with the plumb-line, climbing atop a ladder and then lowering the brass cone-shaped plumb-bob down until the pointed tip touched the floor, then he would hold the string out, next to a newly nailed stud, and with one eye closed and the opened eye squinting, the stud and the plumb-line would be parallel, both perpendicular to the flat level of the earth, and the floor, made level by Uncle Max using the floating bubble of the carpenter's level.

With that he arose from his chair, then with a twinkle in his eyes, and a wave of the fork still in his hand, said that when Uncle Max died, the toolbox was left to him. And they were with him on his cross-country journey, in the back of the Volkswagen microbus, and that summer of '69, he visited several communes, out of both curiosity and a want to explore a different lifestyle. At several of the communes folks were building structures, and out of curiosity, he used Uncle Max's carpenter's level to check out these rising frames of 2 by 4s, and more often than not he noted the studs were not vertical, or at least to the vertical standards of Uncle Max, and further, he did not once find a level foundation.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Behold, I will set a plumbline

The desert heat is nothing less than blazingly brutal in July and August, so days and nights go by slowly and we move about even slower, and that has given me a change to construct a new cross. I should mention that for the past several years I have been permitted to construct the cross that is in the small devotional chapel, and it is sort of a work in progress, for several times a year I will imagine a new cross and then attempt to bring that imagination to fruition. I have just completed a new cross yesterday and already I have noticed some muttering among the brothers, which I always consider a good sign, for as Bro. Sedwick always says, "Some may attempt to empty their minds while in prayer or meditation, but that is a mistake, an empty mind is a vacuum that begs to be filled with whatever debris that happens to be floating about." Or words to that effect. So, when I attempt to create a new cross, it is with the thought that the cross will be a point of focus, not on the object itself, the material cross, but the essence of the cross. With this focus, I feel, one can then empty the mind of the hither and dither without emptying to a dangerous vacuum, thereby keeping the essense of Godness within, or as I sometimes call it, to be Christ focused.

The cross that I dismantled (wearing leather gloves) was one that I constructed a few months ago from dried ocotillo. After a long search, I found two ocotillo branches that were both sturdy and somewhat straight. I used some yucca rope (courtesy of Bro. Clarence) to tie the horizontal to the vertical, then using fishing line (nearly transparent monofilament) I hung the cross from the ceiling, so that it was suspended about a foot from the white plaster wall. If you have ever seen an ocotillo, you can imagine that the thorny branches gave the brothers much to meditate upon. Well, that cross came down and in its place I sought to come up with something very sparse, or I should say, minimal. Minimal in appearance, yet maximal in thought.

Okay, let me describe the new cross. Simply, the horizontal is the abbot's carpenter's level, actually an antique level, constructed of what appears to be cherry wood, showing wear and tear with a brass plate on top protecting the enclosed glass tube filled with oil and the air bubble. I think it is four foot in length, and this I suspended from the ceiling with the same fishing line that held up the ocotillo cross. Okay, you get the picture, a four foot carpenter's level suspended at about eye-level, about one foot in front of the white plaster wall. Next I used the abbot's brass plumb-bob, this I hung from the ceiling with a heavy string so that the string bisects the carpenter's level, thus creating the cross. Because the white plaster wall is aged to pale yellow, I coated the plumb-line string with blue chalk, thereby producing a rather pleasing effect, with the somewhat complimentary colors of pale yellow and blue. And that is it. Well, I should mention the shadows on the plaster wall, which slowly change during the day, because of a small window on the opposite side of the chapel. Okay, I will leave the rest to your imagination, and to the meditations of the brothers. Hopefully some maximal will come from the minimal.

Amo 7:7-8
Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall [made] by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand.
And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

I've always loved those words, because as much as the gospel writers wished to keep the 'physical' Jesus rather mysterious by not offering the slightest physical description, which any neophyte novelist would have accomplished in the first paragraph, nevertheless, we understand that the physical was not the focus of either the authors or their Subject, but then too, we are human and I find that I can picture Jesus in my imagination listening to all the endless chit-chat of those around the campfire, then slowly rising as the others suddenly fall silent, then without even a brief clearing of the throat, shouting, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

Friday, July 21, 2006

Transitory or Futile?

Ecclesiastes 1:2:

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translated the Hebrew 'hebel' to the Latin 'vanitas' and the King James company used the English 'vanity' and so it sometimes goes with translating.

Hebel (Hebrew): vapor, fog, steam, breeze, or breath.

Of course the transitory nature of 'vapor/fog/steam/breeze/breath' does imply impermanence, the ephemeral, all those things that cannot be grasped and held onto.

But how does all that end up 'vanity' as Webster defines: excessive pride/futility/worthlessness?

How about if not 'all is futility' but 'all is transitory'? I think a big difference between futility and transitory. Our lives on Earth may be transitory, but need not be futile. Yes, if one chases after the vapors and fogs and breezes, as though they were something to grab hold of, as though they were permanent, then true, life will be futile and worthless to you, for what you deem permanent is indeed impermanent, and this misunderstanding of God's purpose will only lead you to disappointment and confusion. But God's way is eternal, and in this light, one can read "Vanity of vanities" or "Fog of fogs" or "Uncertainty of uncertainties" with new found understanding.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The other half of the dialogue

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. --John 3:8

I would think it up to the Holy Spirit to know and go to places and persons that I know not. But the places and persons that I do know and meet, I can but share my encounter and everlasting relationship with Jesus, and share is not a monologue, but a dialogue, and I must be confident enough in my own faith to be able to listen respectfully to the other 'half' of sharing, their faith story. And for those without a faith story? I will offer mine in both deed and word for their consideration.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mending the windsock

Let me attempt to recall the words of Bro. Cosmos at the break fast table this morning.

"The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. --John 3:8

I don’t know where the Spirit comes from. And yet, it comes. And goes. I’ve already gone through several phases in my attitude toward journaling, but my current attitude is that it is basically a windsock to try to catch the Spirit as it blows by in the morning. It’s like damming a river so as to create electrical power. If I don’t take the trouble to sit here and catch it as it blows by, it’s as if it never existed. You might say that I am attempting to dam the Spirit."

Since then I've been in the hammock pondering these words, and I believe I will continue at it until the sun sets ...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Harvester Ants and Yucca Hats and Potential

Early this morning I was outside the East wall seated on a rather large rock, quietly observing the rising sun making its scheduled appearance along with the long shadows cast upon this flat landscape. The shadows always intrigue me, for a distant Joshua tree of perhaps ten feet in height will cast a shadow that seems to go on forever. Seated in the stillness, countless forever shadows all seemed to point toward me. And the ants. Several yards in front, thousands of brownish-black ants, all casting long and tiny shadows, seemed oblivious to the drama of the sun in their orderly chaos, with hundreds that seemed to be caught in a freeway clover-loop, helter-skelter, here and there, while others were headstrong in their mission, fanning out in somewhat orderly columns, unaware, or unconcerned about the chaos of the others. It was then that I felt a tap on my shoulder, and lo-and-behold, it was Bro. Clarence, looking down from beneath the wide brim of what appeared to be a straw hat. "This is for you," he said, from behind his back an identical wide-brimmed hat appeared. "Yucca!" Of course he said it with much glee, and immediately I knew the meaning, Bro. Clarence is now weaving hats from the fibers of the Yucca leaf. I was delighted, tried it on, and I must admit, it fit well, and the exceptionally wide brim was a delight, for I knew soon the sun would be up and bearing down upon our heads, but now I was prepared, and would carry forth my own bit of shade for the remainder of the day. "Harvester ants," was his next utterance, and after that he continued at a fast clip, always when he is excited the words come quick and steady. So now I attempt to recall those words, and I must admit, half of his words may have shot over my head while I was still processing the first half. First I learned that the Harvester ant feeds primarily on seeds! They are seed collectors. And most of the ants that I had been pondering were in fact sterile females! "Where are the males?" I asked. After sprouting wings and giving their all to the queen, they have served their useful purpose, and die. Then he carried on with some fascinating details about colonies and socialization and division of labor and with a sweep of his arms he estimated the population of ants within our eyesight, "Maybe ten thousand trillion!" To all that I could only utter what I know about ants, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest" (Proverbs 6:6-8). And here I was, under the wide brim as the former long shadows in the landscape were now shrinking, I thanked Bro. Clarence for the gift of his hands and the gift of his mind, but before I could rise from my rock seat, he said, and I do hope I can remember this with some exactitude, that, "Potential is the creation that they all seem to miss. God created 'potential' and within all the material and all the immaterial, potential exists. Yet science busies itself with all but the potential. We discover and label the results, we call them natural laws, Einstein and others calculate the aftermath, yet God planted potential into all matter, even into the quark!" With that he reached down and pinched some sand between his fingers, then let that sand drop, grain by grain, into his open palm. "This grain of sand has the potential to be a dune, to be a desert! To join concrete and water to be a wall, to be a bridge, to be our dwelling!" And then he went on about physics and 'potential energy' and that all creation is the stored energy or the released energy or the transfer of energy, yet when all is said and done, all is potential. With that I urged Bro. Clarence to put all this down on paper, and his response, "... and then where would I find the time to weave Yucca hats!"