Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Serious On-Line Discussions

Around the year 2000-2001 I spend a year everyday in IRC Undernet in a channel called #philosophy run by a retired teacher with the handle "Skept" who strictly forbade ANY mention of religion or politics. One day I mentioned something about Kierkegaard and Skept booted me saying that my comment was too religious. When the mention of religion and politics is forbidden then much is lost.  I edited and reposted (blogged) a number of the chat dialogues.  What I discovered in IRC (and in Paltalk) is that very few people have the attention span to discuss anything in depth for several hours. I should include Yahoo religion chat rooms from 1999. People would always enter such rooms and say "What's the topic" and there were topics, but no one stayed on them very long or went very deeply or quoted extensively from source texts. And this is sad BECAUSE applications like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and Paltalk provide the possibility for holding seminars. I could only find satisfaction in blogging long essays and interacting with the questions of occasional readers that came along.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Universal Form as Spatio-Temporal Montage

The Universal Form

A Catholic priest once asked a crusty old Irishman "What is your religion?" He answered, "My religion is the oldest religion in the world. I try to be a nice guy."

Psychologist Alfred Adler would ask each patient for their “earliest memory.” Adler believed that the psyche “promotes” some early memory to the position of “first memory” and that the nature of that remembered experience is very revealing, setting the stage for the course of that individual’s development.

What we come to know as our self is a portrait which we have drawn over time. The brush strokes are a series of freewill choices.

Everyone experiences public events and incorporates them into a private, personal, secret interior world. Someone who writes seriously makes that secret world into a public event.

Life appears to us as an endless collection of unstructured images and events. We pick and choose and impose some narrative structure, theme and plot upon this cacophonous, kaleidoscopic confusion.

The self is a work in progress. As we construct our identity, we come to know our self through an emerging self awareness. Each of us is an author with respect to our autobiographical narrative sense of self. We define our selves.

The late Jacob Kline used to say “we become what we are.” He meant that a newborn infant is in no sense an adult as it lies there in its crib, helpless, and yet it is an adult inchoate in that it has the potential within it to develop into what we consider an adult.

In one sense, we become what we are. In a different sense, we are what we become.

If you are born with no fingers then you do not “have it in you” to become a pianist. If you were born with twenty fingers, then perhaps you could play the piano in a way that no other can play.

What I really want to write about, today, is my search for a new term to designate a phenomenon which I have seen several times.

The best term I can find so far is “spatio-temporal montage.”

I have most recently encountered the phenomenon of spatiotemporal montage in the final chapter of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel:”

And through the Square, unwoven from lost time, the fierce bright hordes of Ben spun in and out its deathless loom. Ben, in a thousand moments, walked the Square: Ben of the lost years, the forgotten days, the unremembered hours: prowled by the moonlit façades; vanished, returned, left and rejoined himself, was one and many – deathless Ben in search of the lost dead lusts, the finished enterprise, the unfound door – unchanging Ben multiplying himself in form, by all the brick façades entering and coming out.


And in his vision he saw the fabulous lost cities, buried in the drifted silt of the earth – Thebes, the seven-gated, and all the temples of the Daulian and Phonecian lands, and all the Oenotria to the Tyrrhene gulf. Sunk in the burial-urn of earth he saw the vanished cultures: the strange sourceless glory of the Incas, the fragments of lost epics upon a broken shard of Gnossic pottery, the buried tombs of the Memphis’ kings, and imperial dust, wound all about with gold and rotting linen, dead with their thousand bestial gods, their mute unwakened ushabtii, in their finished eternities.

He saw the billion living of the earth, the thousand billion dead: seas were withered, deserts flooded, mountains drowned; and gods and demons came out of the South, and ruled above the little rocket-flare of centuries, and sank – came to their Northern Lights of death, the muttering death-flared dusk of the completed gods.

But, amid the fumbling march of races to extinction, the giant rhythm of earth remained. The seasons passed in their majestic processionals, and germinal Spring returned forever on the land – new crops, new men, new harvests, and new gods.

And then the voyages, the search for the happy land. In his moment of terrible vision he saw, in the tortuous ways of a thousand alien places, his foiled quest of himself. And his haunted face was possessed of that obscure and passionate hunger that had woven its shuttle across the seas, that had hung its weft among the Dutch in Pennsylvania, that had darkened his father’s eyes to impalpable desire for wrought stone and the head of an angel. Hill-haunted, whose vision of the earth was mountainwalled, he saw the golden cities sicken in his eye, the opulent dark splendors turn to dingy gray. His brain was sick with the million books, his eyes with the million pictures, his body sickened on a hundred princely wines.

Such spatiotemporal montages are always experienced as apocalyptic visions.

Compare Wolfe’s passage above with Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the Aleph:

O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a King of infinite space... Hamlet, II, 2

But they will teach us that Eternity is the Standing still of the Present Time, a Nunc-stans (as the schools call it); which neither they, nor any else understand, no more than they would a Hic-stans for an Infinite greatness of Place. Leviathan, IV, 46

An Aleph is one of the points in space that contains all other points.

"It's in the cellar under the dining room," he went on, so overcome by his worries now that he forgot to be pompous. "It's mine -- mine. I discovered it when I was a child, all by myself. The cellar stairway is so steep that my aunt and uncle forbade my using it, but I'd heard someone say there was a world down there. I found out later they meant an old-fashioned globe of the world, but at the time I thought they were referring to the world itself. One day when no one was home I started down in secret, but I stumbled and fell. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Aleph."

"The Aleph?" I repeated.

"Yes, the only place on earth where all places are -- seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending. I kept the discovery to myself and went back every chance I got. As a child, I did not foresee that this privilege was granted me so that later I could write the poem. Zunino and Zungri will not strip me of what's mine -- no, and a thousand times no! Legal code in hand, Doctor Zunni will prove that my Aleph is inalienable."

"Truth cannot penetrate a closed mind. If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too."

On the back part of the step, toward the right, I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance. At first I thought it was revolving; then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounded. The Aleph's diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror's face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I'd seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny -- Philemon Holland's -- and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon -- the unimaginable universe.

I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity.

I want to add two final observations: one, on the nature of the Aleph; the other, on its name. As is well known, the Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its use for the strange sphere in my story may not be accidental. For in the Kabbala, the letter stands for the En Soph, the pure and boundless godhead; it is also said that it takes the shape of a man pointing to both heaven and earth, in order to show that the lower world is the map and mirror of the higher; for Cantor's Mengenlehre, it is the symbol of transfinite numbers, of which any part is as great as the whole.

The square of Wolfe and the Aleph of Borges are the face of Herman Hesse’ “Siddhartha.”

While Govinda with astonishment, and yet drawn by great love and expectation, obeyed his words, bent down closely to him and touched his forehead with his lips, something miraculous happened to him. While his thoughts were still dwelling on Siddhartha's wondrous words, while he was still struggling in vain and with reluctance to think away time, to imagine Nirvana and Samsara as one, while even a certain contempt for the words of his friend was fighting in him against an immense love and veneration, this happened to him:

He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading eyes--he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying--he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another person--he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his sword--he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love--he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void-- he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds--he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni--he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of then died, each one only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face--and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha's smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips. And, Govinda saw it like this, this smile of the mask, this smile of oneness above the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness above the thousand births and deaths, this smile of Siddhartha was precisely the same, was precisely of the same kind as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had seen it himself with great respect a hundred times. Like this, Govinda knew, the perfected ones are smiling.

Not knowing any more whether time existed, whether the vision had lasted a second or a hundred years, not knowing any more whether there existed a Siddhartha, a Gotama, a me and a you, feeling in his innermost self as if he had been wounded by a divine arrow, the injury of which tasted sweet, being enchanted and dissolved in his innermost self, Govinda still stood for a little while bent over Siddhartha's quiet face, which he had just kissed, which had just been the scene of all manifestations, all transformations, all existence. The face was unchanged, after under its surface the depth of the thousandfoldness had closed up again, he smiled silently, smiled quietly and softly, perhaps very benevolently, perhaps very mockingly, precisely as he used to smile, the exalted one.

All three of these scenes are the vision which Arjuna had of Krishna as the “universal form.”

Vision of the Universal Form

Arjuna said:

11:1. Out of compassion you revealed to me this Highest Mystery of the Divine Atman. It has dispelled my ignorance.

11:2. You told me, O Lotus-eyed, how all beings arise and disappear. I have learned also about Your Imperishable Greatness.

11:3. As You describe Yourself, O Great Lord, I am thirsting to see You in Your Divine Form, O Supreme Spirit!

11:4. If you hold me worthy to see It, O God, then show me Your Eternal Being, O Lord of Yoga! The Blessed Lord said:

11:5. Behold, O Partha, My Forms, hundreds and thousands, Divine, multicolored, multifarious!

11:6. Behold adityas, vasus, rudras, asvins, maruts. Behold countless miracles, O Bharata!

11:7. Behold in My Being, O Gudakesha, the entire universe — moving and nonmoving — with all what you desire to see!

11:8. But truly you are not capable of seeing Me by your eyes, so I endow you with divine eyes. Behold My Supreme Yoga!

Sanjaya said:

11:9. Having uttered this the Great Lord of Yoga showed to Arjuna His Universal Form

11:10. with countless eyes and mouths, with many miraculous sights, with numerous divine adornments, brandishing numerous divine weapons,

11:11. in divine garments and necklaces, anointed with divine fragrant oils, with faces to all sides, all-wonderful, flaming, infinite.

11:12. And even if the shining of thousand suns would blaze forth in the sky it cannot be compared to the Glory of this Great Soul.

11:13. In It Arjuna saw the whole universe subdivided into many worlds, but united into one in the Body of the Highest Deity.

11:14. Then astonished Arjuna bowed his head to the Deity, joined his palms and spoke.

Arjuna said:

11:15. In You, O God, I see gods, all kinds of beings, the Lord-Brahman seated in a wonderful lotus asana, all rishis, and wondrous celestial serpents.

11:16. With countless arms, bellies, mouths, eyes — everywhere I see You — unlimited are Your manifestations. My eyes can see neither the beginning, nor the middle, nor the end of Your Glory, O Infinite, Boundless Lord!

11:17. I behold Your Radiance, Your infinite omnipresent Light with discs, diadems, and scepters. Like blazing flame, or a dazzling sun You radiate the rays of light hard to look at.

11:18. You are beyond my thinking, O Imperishable Lord, the Supreme Goal, the Foundation of the universe, the Immortal Keeper of the eternal dharma, the Primordial Soul — thus my mind conceives You!

11:19. There is neither the beginning of You, nor the middle, nor the end! You are unlimited in Your Power! Your arms are countless! Like suns and moons are Your eyes! When I behold Your Face It blazes like sacrificial fire and scorches the worlds with Your Glory!

11:20. You alone fill heavens and all planets and all which is extended invisibly between them. The whole triune world trembles in front of You, O Mighty One, in front of Your appalling Face!

11:21. Hosts of gods surrender to You folding palms in awe. All appeal to You! And armies of saints praising You make hymns that sound throughout the entire universe.

11:22. And hosts of rudras, adityas, vasus and sadhyas, visvas, asvins, maruts, ancestors, gandharvas, asuras, yakshas, gods — all are admiring You!

11:23. Seeing Your mighty Form with eyes and mouths of untold number, with rows of fearsome teeth, with vast breast, with countless hands and feet the worlds are trembling and so am I.

11:24. Like a rainbow in heaven You are shining with dazzling light — with mouths wide open and giant flaming eyes. You permeate my Atman … As I behold You my strength fades away, my peace vanishes…

11:25. Like flaming glittering swords are Your numerous teeth in the open fearful jaws. The sight of them terrifies me, I do not know where to hide from the vision of You. Be merciful, O Lord, the Refuge of the worlds!

11:26. Dhritarashtra’s sons and many rulers from various countries of the Earth, Bhishma, Drona and Karna, and heroes from the both belligerent parties —

11:27. all they are rushing into Your open moths where rows of teeth glitter fearfully. Like mighty millstones they grind all warriors clutched between them turning their bodies to ashes.

11:28. As waters of rivers rapidly and violently rush towards the great ocean even so these mighty warriors, rulers of the Earth rush headlong into Your open burning mouths.

11:29. As a moss swiftly flies into a flame to die in it so do they rush into the dreadful jaws to disappear in them and find death there.

11:30. Devouring everything in all directions the fire of your countless tongues burns to ashes all creatures. The space is filled with Your Radiance! The world is blazing under Your all-pervading rays, O Lord!

11:31. Reveal to me Your essence! Your vision is terrifying me beyond all measure! I prostrate myself in front of You! Have mercy on me, O Mighty Lord! What is concealed in You I aspire to know! But Your present form is dreadful for me!

The Blessed Lord said:

11:32. I am the Time that brings despair to the world, that slays all people, manifesting its law on the Earth. No one of the warriors arraying here for battle will escape death. You alone will not cease to live.

11:33. Therefore, arise! And reach your glory, vanquish your enemies, and enjoy the power of your kingdom! They are already slain by My Will. You provide just the outer appearance, slay them by your hand.

11:34. Drona, Bhishma, Jayadratha, Karna, and all the warriors present here are already doomed to die. Therefore, fight boldly, O Arjuna! And the victory on this battlefield will be yours!

Sanjaya said:

11:35. Having heard the words said by the Lord, Arjuna trembling and prostrating, addressed Krishna again with voice faltering of fear:

11:36. The worlds are right to rejoice in praising You in songs and hymns beholding Your Magnificence, O Hrishikesha. Hosts of saints prostrate in front of You and demons scatter in fear.

11:37. And how can they not venerate the Great Atman that is superior to Brahman! O Infinite One! The Lord of all righteous men! Refuge of all worlds! Eternal! You are both Being and Non-being, and That Which is beyond Them!

11:38. Among gods no one is superior to You! The Primordial One! The Supreme Refuge of all the living! You pervade the entire universe! O Cognizable! O Omniscient! The whole universe is contained in Your Form!

11:39. You are the God of wind, the God of life, the God of death, the God of fire, the God of water. You are the Moon, the Father, the Progenitor of all beings. Be praised thousand times, again and again! Be ever praised!

11:40. All prostrate in front of You! Hail to You from all sides! There is neither limit to Your Might nor measure to You Power! You include everything since You are Everything!

11:41. If I sometimes inadvertently addressed You as my friend: “O Krishna! O my friend!”, I did this out of my emotions being unaware of Your Greatness,.

11:42. And while resting, joking, playing, eating, or having fun I did not show the due respect to You — being alone with You or with other friends — I beseech You: forgive me my sin, O Immeasurable!

11:43. The Father of the worlds and of all the moving or non-moving! The most honorable and glorious Guru! There is nothing comparable to You! Who can excel You? Who in the all worlds can surpass You Glory?

11:44. I prostrate myself in awe before You and implore You: be forbearing with me! Be my father, be my friend! As loving one with his beloved even so you bear with me!

11:45. I beheld You Glory seen no one before. I am shivering with fear and joy. I implore You: assume Your previous form! Have mercy on me. O the Lord of gods, the Refuge of worlds!

11:46. I strive to see former You in Your glittering crown and with kingly mace in hand! Show me Your form, which is known and dear to me! Hide this multi-armed form of Yours unbearable for mortals!

The Blessed Lord said:

11:47. Arjuna! By My Grace you came to know My supreme and eternal Form, which is revealed only in Yoga, in mergence with the Atman. Of the men around no one but you have seen it.

11:48. Neither merits, nor knowing the Vedas, nor offerings, nor exploits of ascetics, nor profoundness of knowledge — nothing is able to reveal this concealed Form of Mine that you saw.

11:49. Allay your confusion and trepidation, do not be afraid about seeing My awesome Form. Forget your fear! Cheer up your spirit! Behold My form well known to you!

Sanjaya said:

11:50. Having said these words Krishna assumed His usual appearance and comforted shocked Arjuna. The Great assumed again His gracious from.

Arjuna said:

11:51. Seeing again Your gracious human appearance I am coming to oneself and regaining my normal state.

The Blessed Lord said:

11:52. That Form of Mine which you have seen is very hard to see. Even gods are ever eager to see It.

11:53 One cannot see Me such as you have seen even if he knows all the Vedas, performs ascetic exploits, makes offerings.

11:54. Only love can behold Me thus, O Arjuna! Only love can contemplate Me in My innermost Essence and merge with Me.

11:55. He who does everything (only) for Me, for whom I am the Supreme Goal, who loves Me, who is not attached, devoid of enmity — that one comes to Me, O Pandava. Thus in the upanishads of the blessed Bhagavad Gita, the Science of Eternal, the Scripture of yoga, says the eleventh conversation between Shri Krishna and Arjuna, entitled:

Vision of the Universal Form.

Vision of the Pralaya:

The Puranic sage Markandeya's vision of universal dissolution appears in the third book of Mahabharata (3,186-187).

Markandeya was a religious ascetic who spent all his time in meditation and prayer and the reading and discussion of sacred writings.

One day, a great storm arose, and ocean swelled and all things were engulfed and submerged in a great deluge. All the world was being destroyed in a flood.

Markandeya was swept far out to see by the raging torrent and frequently swallowed by the whirl pools, vortexes and maelstroms, only to be spewed forth again to the raging surface of the waters.

Markandeya greatly feared for his life and mourned for the impending doom of the world he had always known.

Suddenly in the midst of the raging chaos, Markanedya saw a tree firmly planted, rising out of the water. One branch of this tree was haloed with an unnatural light which melted the surrounding darkness and gloom. Markendaya struggled desparately to draw close to that branch. Upon one leaf of that branch he saw the source of the luminosity. A beautiful infant lay sleepily upon the leaf, placidly sucking the large toe of his right foot. As Markandeya came even closer, to have a better look, he was suddenly inhaled by the infant's breathing, through the nostrils, and found himself inside the infants body. Inside the body of the child, Markandeya discovered the world as he knew it, before the flood, peaceful, calm and safe. He saw the mountains and the oceans, the forests and the cities, all beneath the star-filled heavens.

A moment later, Markandeya was exhaled again and found himself surrounded by flood waters, beholding the child reclining upon the leaf.

With the next moment, the child and the tree and the deluge vanished and he was once again seated in his retreat as he had been when this vision started.

God then appeared to bless Markandeya and said "People shall benefit by these stories which you shall relate to them."

The Virgin Birth

The Archangel Gabriel cried unto the Virgin:

Awed by the beauty of thy virginity, and the exceeding radiance of thy purity,
What worthy hymns of praise may I offer unto thee?
Or how shall I name thee? I am in doubt and stand in awe!
For thy womb has become more spaceous than the heavens, now that it contains the uncontainable one!
Rejoice! Thou bride unwedded!

The Upanishads: Katha Upanishad: Part One Chapter I

{14} Death said: I know well the Fire-sacrifice, which leads to Heaven and I will explain it to you. Listen to me. Know this Fire to be the means of attaining Heaven. It is the support of the universe; it is hidden in the hearts of the wise.

{20} Nachiketa said: There is this doubt about a man when he is dead: Some say that he exists; others, that he does not. This I should like to know, taught by you. This is the third of my boons.

{21} Death said: On this subject even the gods formerly had their doubts. It is not easy to understand: the nature of Atman is subtle. Choose another boon, O Nachiketa! Do not press me. Release me from that boon.

{25} Whatever desires are difficult to satisfy in this world of mortals, choose them as you wish: these fair maidens, with their chariots and musical instruments - men cannot obtain them. I give them to you and they shall wait upon you. But do not ask me about death.

{26} Nachiketa said: But, O Death, these endure only till tomorrow. Furthermore, they exhaust the vigour of all the sense organs. Even the longest life is short indeed. Keep your horses, dances and songs for yourself.

{27} Wealth can never make a man happy. Moreover, since I have beheld you, I shall certainly obtain wealth; I shall also live as long as you rule. Therefore no boon will be accepted by me but the one that I have asked.

{1} Death said: The good is one thing; the pleasant, another. Both of these, serving different needs, bind a man. It goes well with him who, of the two, takes the good; but he who chooses the pleasant misses the end.

{2} Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to a man. The calm soul examines them well and discriminates. Yea, he prefers the good to the pleasant; but the fool chooses the pleasant out of greed and avarice.

{5} Fools dwelling in darkness, but thinking themselves wise and erudite, go round and round, by various tortuous paths, like the blind led by the blind.

Deuteronomy: Chapter 30: Verse 12

... It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'

2 Chronicles 2:6

But will God in very truth dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have builded

1 Kings 8:27

But will God in very truth dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded!  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lazarus and the rich man

I was thinking just the other day about Lazarus and the rich man, and how Lazarus was "in the bosom of Abraham" presumably in heaven, and the rich man (we never learn his name) is in, we assume, the torment of hell, and the rich man is requesting intercession, and then the final comment that even if someone WERE to return from the dead and warn people, they would not take heed. And we do not know that the rich man was wicked but only that he lacked that "oil of compassion" as the five foolish virgins (who WERE VIRGINS = physical purity) but lacked sufficient eleemosynary (oil = elaion) works 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bible Recipe for a Church

Mike  has mentioned the apostolic injunction to "go unto all the nations and preach" yet at times I get the impression that Mike feels he IS apostolic and is preaching his brand of understanding to convert, say, Roman Catholics, away from the error of their monolithic Magisterium and bring them over to the truth of his local store front church. Now it seems to me that all the world is aware of the Bible and the choices of religions by means NOT of apostles wandering sandal-clad with staff in hand but because of Gutenberg's printing press, and Internet podcasts and magazines and the activities of all sorts of secular scholars who write books on the topic.  Mike seems to feel that the words of the Bible are clear, obvious, unambiguous and all that is necessary and sufficient to produce a Bible-based Christian. If this is true then why does anyone need a pastor or preacher. It seems to me that anyone who is literate and can read can make themselves into a Christian. And since it is written "wherever two or three are gathered in my name" then all you need to do is find one or two people who see eye to eye with you and get some bread or matzah and wine or grape juice and bingo, you can have Communion. I mean, why not?  But what confuses me is that if the Bible is a clear-cut cook-book recipe for how to make a Christian and have a church then WHY is there not more unity or agreement or fellowship among all these Bible based Christians. In fact, some of them insist upon having poisonous snakes as part of their service and certainly there is a verse which says "and if you touch a poisonous serpent it shall not harm you" .   So are those snake-handlers Christians?  What they do certainly seems Bible-based. And WHY is there a place like St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai Egypt which has practiced unchanged since at lease the third century. Are THEY Christians?  If St. Catherine's is in error then why did God allow them to survive all this time to confuse everyone as to what the true definition of Christianity is.  We know that God destroyed those priests who offered "strange incense" in the Old Testament and had the earth open and swallow them up.

Show me your prophetesses

For several years I worked as a computer programmer with the wife of a pastor who herself had a major in mathematics and a minor in theology.  One day I asked her, out of curiosity: "SUPPOSE that a Roman Catholic began attending your services and after some months asked to convert to your faith: would you baptize them or how would you receive them?"  She said "Oh, they are not Christians since they believe in works so we would baptize them, but FIRST we would have them produce a number of witnesses who could testify that they are leading a godly life."  NO I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. This is verbatim what she answered. So obviously she believes that someone must be sinless at least in the sense of no public scandals BEFORE they can be baptized.  Do YOU feel the pastor's wife is theologically correct?  One day I met her pastor husband and I asked him whether which denomination/tradition he was, Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Lutheran, etc. He looked shocked and said "well I hope I am BIBLICAL."  I said, "but dont you realize that if you spoke to the Pope, and to the head of the Mormon Church, and to a Jehovah's Witness and to a Christian Scientist that EACH would insist that they are Bible based?"  He looked embarrassed and said "well I suppose you are right."  In fact, somewhere in Acts it speaks of a family with two prophetess daughters. Since that must be Biblical, I ask you to produce a few prophetesses from your congregation to show me that you are Bible-based.

Faith v. Works - Who is a Real Christian

I feel that there are no guarantees. The reason for the JUDGMENT is to be judged, so no one bypasses the judgment and there you shall answer for every idle word which passes from your lips. Grace and Works are an inseparable mystery. The judgment of God is a mystery to humans. And "God will not be mocked" by which I mean to say that you cannot have God over a barrel with a basket full of cherry-picked verses.  The FOOLISH virgins did not have enough oil. Everything is fraught with danger since there are no guarantees BUT there is greater danger in relying totally upon faith. Better to err on the side of works than on faith.  I was just looking the other day at that passage "I will have mercy upon whom I shall have mercy."  Its like the laborers in the vineyard; some work from sunrise til sunset and others work only at the last hour, they all receive the same wage, the same penny, but they all WORKED. Do you imagine that those Roman Catholics whom you suggest are not Christians will be turned away at the judgment and told "you depended upon works and did not realize that everything is faith" ? With what measure you measure out unto others so shall it be measured unto you. So if you judge your Roman Catholic neighbor as un-Christian then perhaps the same will be measured out to you at the judgment and you will hear "I never knew you;  go to the outer darkness" -   As I explained to you, those "words of God" did not get written down and finalized until more than a century, and there were no verse numbers so the Apostles would not understand your verse references. In fact there were no lower case letters or spaces between words. Yet somehow, in the absence of written scripture there was a Church which was guided by tradition. It is that tradition that produced the Bible and not the Bible which produced tradition. And 2Peter 3:16 describes YOU as one of those with a weak foundation who twists and distorts passages to your own destruction. Go and visit St. Catherine's in Sinai Egypt to see Christians who have lived in an unchanging tradition since apostolic times.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Personal Relationship With Jesus

I question whether it is meaningful or appropriate for a Catholic to speak of "a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus" for anyone NOT in communion with the Catholic Church. If it is possible for someone outside the Roman Catholic Church to be saved by this "personal relationship" then why is the Catholic Church necessary? And how does someone know that their personal relationship is not with a false angel of light which Paul mentions in the epistles?


The words "intimate", "personal" and "relationship" do not appear in Strong's Exhaustive Bible concordance. 

Here is a search engine for the entire Catechism which yields only a few vague references to a relationship with God . 


The closest thing I find in the Catechism pertains to the life of hermits and would not apply to a layperson: 

The eremitic life

920 Without always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly, hermits "devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance."

921 They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.


Here is a page which is Roman Catholic and stresses an "intimate, personal relationship with Jesus" but it seems to be aimed at Evangelicals who try to win converts from the RC Church.   


I see this "personal relationship with Jesus" as a recent Evangelical Protestant innovation and not something stressed in the first 1500 years of Christianity.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Correcting Student Papers

I volunteered to read over one seminarian's papers because English is his second language. His papers are not very long but it is a lot of work to diligently read every sentence and correct spelling and grammar. We do in in Google documents so I can highlight phrases, sentences, change the color, and place the correction in a COMMENT. I wonder how any staff could really give proper attention to hundreds of papers. There should be some automated on-line program to exercise students in grammar, spelling, style. But what really bugs me is some of the ideas that are being taught to him. His professor or textbook makes a few statements that disturb me. One statement is to the effect that Plato's Academy and Socrates methods form some unbroken tradition that appears in the Catholic Church and that when people are taught a "method" to distinguish "truth" from "falsehood" then this is somehow "formational" or transformative.  Another paper which bothered me stressed that the Virgin Mary is totally sinless, yet ancient prayers from the early centuries refer to Christ as "the only sinless one" ... the early Church refers to Mary as "Panagia" (All-Holy) and "blameless" but stops short of placing her in the same sinless category as Christ. I understand the differing views of Roman Catholic vs. Eastern Orthodox on original sin and Immaculate Conception but I think its more prudent to be conservative and remain silent on certain matters. Also there are topics which the Greeks call "theologoumena" things which may endlessly discussed without coming to any conclusions but which are matters not essential to salvation (e.g. exact details of the how and why of Dormition/Assumption) -- Anyway, this "taste" for me of what it is like to correct papers makes me realize how difficult it is and also.. the problem of respecting the student's right to see things differently but yet make them aware that there are other ways to see them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Legal Signatures

Speaking of cursive for legal signatures, one of the first things I learned was my full name as a legal signature, and I have done it the same way for 50 years. But I have known so many people who have cryptic little Byzantine marks which g...ive NO indication as to what their actual name is BUT they are marks which are difficult to forge. I worked for 3 years for a man from Paris who was out of the country half the time and I was in the office by myself. With his permission I often had to sign that cryptic little signature of his. I learned cursive writing in Russian enough to get by when I was in my 20's but I cannot remember it now. It isn't THAT big a deal to learn a phonetic alphabet like Greek or Russian; each one took me less than a month. Children should master some skill sets. We do forget much of what we learn/memorize unless we use it regularly. I did every single problem odd and even in the 960 page calculus text by Purcell just to see if I could do it. Now all I can tell you is that a derivative is a slope at a point, an integral is an area under a curve, a double integral is a volume and a triple integral is a volume in 4-space and multidimensional spaces are simply models to handle 10 or 20 variables algebraically and do not necessarily have a visual analog.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Exercising the memory

I will soon turn age 63. I can notice a very slight deterioration in memory and cognitive abilities. Learning Mandarin Hanji characters definitely seems beneficial as a mental exercise. Initially I had to spend literally hours tracing one character over and over and over. Slowly, it became easier. I was able to visualize certain characters during the day. I began to gain a sense of stroke order. Many elderly people take up crossword puzzles as a way to keep the mind active. I do not enjoy doing things which are arbitrary and meaningless. I do not enjoy games. There is actually a government committee in China which oversees the characters. Each school grade has a certain number of characters that they must master before they proceed to the next grade. A college student can recognize about 4000 characters which allows them to understand 80,000 words. 2000 characters is the minimum for reading a newspaper. 100,000 is required for Classical Chinese.


I watched a long documentary on the life of Steve Jobs in which they interviewed the calligraphy expert who helped Jobs develop various fonts for the Apple. The calligrapher said he refused to write in any fashion except by hand and he lamented the decline in handwritten documents. I am teaching myself Chinese Hanzi (simplified, not traditional) by stroking characters with my finger on an Android screen and letting an app called Hanzi Recognizer find them. Stroke order is essential. Even if what I write/stroke resembles the character exactly the search engine will not find it because it uses the order of the strokes as part of the search. I had my personal reasons for choosing simplified (used in mainland China) over traditional (used everywhere outside mainland). I have watched youtube videos of master Chinese and Japanese calligraphers at work. There is a kind of beauty in these logographs and a mood which arises during the practice of "painting" the characters. However, most Chinese speakers have cell phones and use pinyin phonetic methods to bring up the Hanji characters and so gradually I think the skill of stroking characters will vanish. There are input methods which allow the finger to stroke and do not require pinyin but still, stroking by finger is different from the ink brush which allows so much more style and expression.

Should children still be taught how to write in cursive longhand script?

One thing is certain - at a young age we can learn almost ANYTHING if we are required... but in our twenties or thirties or forties we will not be able to learn cursive script, touch typing, bicycle riding, driving an automobile, or any number of other things because there are windows of opportunity which close as we age. One obvious window is our ability to read, learn spelling, grammar, punctuation. I have known some adults who were either totally illiterate (total inability to deal with symbols) or functionally illiterate (they can stumble through a sentence with difficulty but they have little comprehension.)  I worked at Stone & Websters Engineering in the 1980s and they had archives of ledgers going back to the 19th century. Everyone commented on how markedly the quality of the handwriting declines around the turn of the century. 

Printing, Cursive Script Longhand, Typewriter, Keyboard or Speech Recognition.

Most of my life I have printed whenever possible because my cursive script is so illegible. A few years ago I had to spend a period of time without Internet, so I carried a spiral notebook and blogged in cursive script, typing it once I had Internet access. I still have some of those notebooks. My choice of cursive was subconscious. I think I can write more quickly in cursive and since it is only for me to read I do not worry about legibility. I did learn to touch type 60 wpm at the age of 11 so for me the most natural way to think creatively is at a keyboard. In fact, I volunteered to help one seminarian who speaks English as a second language. When I want to write at length about some complex topic I find that not only must I type at a keyboard, but it must be a blog of some sort.

Gisela Berns , Tutor at SJC, told me that she cannot think creatively with a keyboard but must have the feeling of pen upon paper.  I remember reading about some recent published author who submits written manuscripts in cursive script and is perhaps  the very last to do so, but I cannot remember the name.

J.D. Salinger spent his days at some mechanical typewriter. In fact, I watched a documentary on Hitchens and it showed him at a mechanical typewriter typing with two fingers, hunt and peck.  I suppose each of us becomes frozen in our ways. 

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