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:

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

"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.)