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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Who are we?

"This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields. It was born of a struggle. It was a struggle to be permitted to doubt, to be unsure. And I do not want us to forget the importance of the struggle and, by default, to let the thing fall away."

--Richard Feynman

"We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey."

"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."

--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The learn'd astronomer

Last evening Bro. Clarence gave a talk, or I should say a lecture on astronomy, and as he said, to prepare us for the upcoming observations with his new telescope. He even wheeled out the chalkboard and began drawing lines and arcs and numbers followed by countless zeros, he talked of Hubble and bubbles and a cosmos liken to the suds in a bubble bath, and on and on it went. I found it fascinating, but noted that Bro. Juniper was nodding off, so it is my guess that he is the one that push-pinned the following to the dining room bulletin board early this morning, and I must add, a fair rebuttal to talk of countless zeros.

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fancy a sunset

It is noble indeed to contemplate a brighter future, a brighter here and now, and it's ironic that these thoughts come upon us as we gaze at the sunset, and the more dramatic the redden sky, the more profound our noble thoughts, yet remove the air pollution, the smoke, the ash in the atmosphere, then suddenly our sunset disappears, for the sterile sky catches and holds not our fancy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are we now awake?

Sometimes I think of life as countless journeys, or Odysseys, or cycles, and of course starting from birth, and some treks are short and eventful, others are long and may be filled with experiences and learning, and some wanderings take you in a loop and you find yourself returned, no wiser, no better, only poorer for the loss of so much time. So in life we meet new people, and if life is good, we share our experiences, our spiritual travels, and in this sharing sometimes we meet someone who has walked many journeys of fulfillment that has made this person better, while other times we are the ones sharing the journeys of enlightenment. Some early trips may be to hilltops, and we meet many others along the path, coming and going, later in life we may be climbing taller mountains, and meet not so many along the way, but those that we meet we pause to share the secrets of mountain climbing, some tips learned may save your life later as you get closer to the peak. Maybe you meet a few returning from the peak, some with great joy that tell you of the splendid view from top, others may tell that this peak was a challenge, but it really isn't a big mountain, so save your glee for the other taller and more challenging mountain climbs that are still out there. And life is such, we all find ourselves in a different place, none have made it to the tallest of peaks, most don't even dare, but some, with happy hearts, keep looking over the horizon for another wondrous mountain that we set our sights on. And life can be like that, seeking God, yet never kidding ourselves into thinking we are atop Everest and our traveling days are over, for seeking God is a lifetime journey, especially when we remember that each step along the way can be a miracle in itself, if only we are awake and have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The matter of early darkness and the big EVIL

For some of us our electricity-free experiment is moving along just fine, and one interesting observation made by Bro. Juniper last night was that after sunset the desert becomes exceedingly dark, especially during new moon, and without our normal "lit up" environment, the bit of candle light here and there seems to heighten the senses, so much so that even the ears become super sensitive. Our former familiar environment suddenly became unfamiliar, new sounds emerge from the night. I guess prior to turning off the electricity we more or less created an artificial daylight far into the night, and with that light most of us were active in one way or another, but with very early darkness, our night time activity has nearly slowed to a halt. Whatever cannot be performed under candlelight, has been eliminated from our evening and nighttime activites. Prior, we would turn the light off only when we were ready for sleep, and for most of us sleep came quickly, so no time to really sense the quiet sounds of the night. Now we have many hours of darkness before sleep, so those quiet sounds are taking on new meaning, and in some cases we know not the source of the sounds. That is why our imaginations have suddenly become more active. I admit more than once being startled by a weird sound in the darkness. The desert may appear deserted to some, but I can assure you that is not true. Especially at night, creatures large and small abound. Which brings us to the matter of the big EVIL. In darkness the mind seems to want an explanation for everything, and when an answer isn't forthcoming, then just like last night, every sound became a creature prowling about the monastery. Is that what evil is? We cannot see what is producing the menacing sounds, so devils begin to dance in our minds, all sorts of crazed thoughts take the cue. But then a flip of the switch and light shines near and far and the wild imagination is startled by the normalcy of it all. Which is why I'm more inclined to believe that evil is when one turns away from God, or even in ignorance, acts in opposite to the Light of God. Much of what in the past was considered evil incarnate, I would say was ignorance of mental illness. Of all the countless electrochemical processes that take place in the human brain, a symphony of precision and exactitude, it is mindboggling how we can be so 'normal' and then add the burden of the modern environment (or the ancient environment), and add all that takes place in the formation of the brain from conception until whatever current state you find yourself, amazing that 'it' works at all. So I view aberrations in human behavior as understandable, understandable in the sense that any man-made complex machine that could function year in and year out without 'crashing' is really unthinkable. Yet we consider it normal for the brain to do just that. But it does 'crash' in many nonfatal ways, in the ancient world we could only make sense of someone so 'disabled' as being possessed by evil spirits, today we seek to either repair the brain chemistry, or 'help' the mind to self repair. Some speak of great evil beings, such as Hitler and the Nazi 'elite', yet some of the decent beings that were eye witness to the Nazis more often than not came to report their own astonishment at the banality of these evil beings. In which I return to what I believe is the greatest evil, the 'reverse born again' or the turning away from God. I have never experience a credible personification of evil, one medical doctor that I know who once examined prisoners said he once experienced a prisoner that he was sure was possessed by a real evil that transcended 'mental illness'. For me, the first step in discernment is to use common sense and logic, and when it comes to evil humans, I find it too easy to logically uncover their behavior. If humans behaved as most animals behave, then we would call all humans evil, yet animals are not evil. Without self awareness, animals act only to survive, their actions are appropriate for survival, even when the actions bring horror to us humans. We do not consider animals possessed because they slaughter other animals, for them it is normal. So as we need not a personified evil such as Satan or devils to explain the actions of snakes and tigers and sharks, so too with those humans that turn away from God, for them evil is when one's self awareness is perverted to the point where empathy is lost, and then, with the masks of humans, these humans become animals.

Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jesus in Japan

Last night Bro. Simon was talking about his early travels in Japan, with rucksack and sandals he spent five years criss-crossing the country, and as he puts it, "seeking to get to the bottom of this Zen thing." Well, he never got to the "bottom" of Zen, but he described meeting an elderly Buddhist, he too traveling by foot, and with his limited Japanese was able to understand that this old fellow was going to see the "grave of Jesus Christ!" Bro. Simon was rather puzzled at the time, listening to this Buddhist speaking of the grave of Jesus, and actually pointing toward a far off hill, and uttering in English, "Grave ... grave ..." So the journey began, the two walking side by side, the young American and the elderly Japanese, both hiking to the grave of Jesus. Bro. Simon's bemusement was only intensified when they came upon a wooden directional sign, and in the midst of Japanese characters were the printed English words: "Jesus Grave" with an arrow pointing straight ahead. Late afternoon they arrived, and this is what Bro. Simon copied down, transcribed from the wooden sign that was posted before a mound that had a large cross.

When He was 21 years old, Jesus Christ (イエスキリスト) came to Japan and studied theology for 12 years. He came back to Judea at the age of 33 in order to preach, but people there rejected His teachings and arrested Him to crucify Him. However, it was His little brother Jsus Chri (イスキリ) who took His place and ended his life on the cross. Jesus Christ, having escaped crucifixion, resumed His travels and finally came back to Japan, where He settled in this village, Herai, and lived till the age of 106 (other versions mention the age of 118 and the name of His wife, Miyu). In this holy place, the tomb on the right is dedicated to Jesus Christ, while the tomb on the left commemorates His brother, Jsus Chri. All of this is written in Jesus Christ's testament.

Bro. Simon said the Buddhist monk stared at the grave mound and the cross for a very long time, then turned to him and placed a gnarled but firm hand on Bro. Simon's shoulder before smiling a smile that only someone that had already gotten to the bottom of this Zen thing could smile.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Everywhere

By the Sea of Galilee
They went forth
The trees’ fresh green was everywhere.

--Tetsuzo Takeda