Monthly Archives: February 2015

On St. Matthias – and “Father Roberts”

“The Wind River … Indian Reservation, Wyoming,” where Father Roberts preached…


Tuesday, February 24, 2015, is the Feast of St. Matthias, the Apostle who came “after” Judas:

[A]ccording to the Acts of the Apostles, [he] was the apostle chosen by the remaining eleven apostles to replace Judas Iscariot following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and suicide.  His calling as an apostle is unique in that his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended to heaven, and, it was made before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church.

See Saint Matthias – Wikipedia.  Note also that this St. Matthias is not to be confused with St. Matthew, the Gospel-writer whose Feast Day is September 21.

Or for that matter Mattathias, who rebelled against the occupying power before Rome, just before Jesus.  In turn he fathered Judas Maccabeus, the greatest guerrilla in Jewish history.

But we digress…

We were talking about St. Matthias, also known as “Unremarkable Matthias” or the “Overlooked Apostle.”  See Feast | First Things and The Overlooked Holy Apostle, Matthias.

Isaac Asimov gave a pithy description of how this Matthias became an Apostle:

Peter arranged to have a new individual selected to take the place of Judas Iscariot in order to bring the number of the inner circle back to the mystical twelve that matched the twelve tribes of Israel.  Two were nominated, Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias.  To choose between the two, lots were used: Acts 1:26….  and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.   Neither Joseph Barsabbas nor Matthias are mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.

(Asimov, 998)   The problem is there are few if any images available – pictures or paintings – of St. Matthias.  So to get a lead-in and lower image for this post, I had to check the church calendar.  I found a “trial” Feast – February 25 – for Reverend John Roberts (1853-1949).

There’s more about “Father Roberts” below, but first some points about St. Mattathias.

As noted in St. Matthias – Wikipedia, some scholars think he’s really someone else:

Eusebius calls him … not Matthias but “Tolmai,” not to be confused with Bartholomew (which means Son of Tolmai) who was originally one of the twelve Apostles;  Clement of Alexandria says some identified him with Zacchaeus;  the Clementine Recognitions identify him with BarnabasHilgenfeld thinks he is the same as Nathanael in the Gospel of John.

Another site said Peter and the other apostles studied Old Testament Scripture and “found a prophecy of Judas’ betrayal in Psalms 69 and 109.”  (As I wrote back in October 2014, “It pays to know the psalms!”  See also Jesus and the Psalms – Ligonier Ministries.)    Further, “the prophecy in Psalm 109 included the instruction, ‘let another take his office.’”  See Feast | First Things, which added, “We too, should search the Scriptures [especially the Psalms] to find God’s will…”

The Overlooked Holy Apostle agreed that “Matthias was originally Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree because he could not see Jesus due to the crowd of people and his short stature (Luke 19:1-10).  He repented of his former life after meeting the Lord.”  This site included a gruesome account of St. Matthias preaching in a city of “man-eaters” – cannibals – and of the trials and tribulations he suffered there.  (See also Zacchaeus – Wikipedia.)

So whether St. Matthias died by being first stoned and then beheaded, or had his eyes gouged out and then “sat for thirty days waiting to be eaten and die,” the point is this:  spreading the Gospel isn’t always a whole lot of fun.  Which brings up a more recent “Gospel spreader” who had a bit more luck, the Reverend John Roberts, “Father Roberts.”

As Wikipedia noted, “John Roberts [1853-1949] is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on 25 February.”  See John Roberts (missionary), which noted he was born in “north Wales” but grew up yearning to be a missionary.  His first mission was to the Bahamas, but among people who “were already Christian.”  He wanted “greater challenges, particularly among American Indians,” and was eventually sent to the Diocese of Colorado and Wyoming.  He asked “for missionary work in the diocese’s most difficult field.”

The site John Roberts, Missionary to the Eastern Shoshone, added some interesting footnotes.

For one thing, there was his memorable eight-day trip out to the Wind River Reservation:  “He took the train to Green River and then traveled the last 150 miles by stage.  This journey came in the midst of a blizzard with temperatures nearing 60 degrees below zero.” (E.A.)

Another note addressed Father Roberts’ befriending Chief Washakie of the Shoshone:

The chief’s son, Jim Washakie, was shot and killed in 1885 by a white man in an argument over a liquor purchase.  When Chief Washakie heard of this, he became distraught and vowed to kill every white man he saw until he himself was dead.  When Roberts heard of this, he …  offered his own life instead.  Washakie reconsidered and said, “I do not want your life.  But I want to know what it is that gives you more courage than I have.”  Roberts used the occasion to talk about his personal faith and converted Washakie to Christianity. (E.A.)

Which brings up the work of missionaries in general.  One definition said a missionary is a “member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development.”  Certainly the last five “ministries of service” have the potential for much good.  On the other hand there are concerns “that missionaries have a perceived lack of respect for other cultures.”  And there is the “potential destruction of social structure among the converts.”  See Wikipedia.

Other web articles are more blunt, saying missionaries in the past have attacked native spiritual ceremonies as “pagan,” adding that among “uncivilised people,” missionaries are “agents of destruction.”  And some say missionaries have destroyed the “bonds of the people to the forests, land and animals,” and spread ideologies and technologies that make native people “slaves to the extractive system which defines colonialism.”  See e.g. Against Missionaries, A Case Against Missionaries, and/or Do Missions Destroy Culture? | RELEVANT Magazine.

On the other hand, see John Roberts, Priest, 1949 | Commission on Liturgy and Music:

Unlike other missionaries who sought to change the culture and lifestyle of Native peoples … Roberts believed it was important to preserve the language, customs, and culture of the people.  Roberts sought to honor and respect the ancient ways of the Native peoples while at the same time proclaiming the Gospel among them, inviting them to faith, establishing congregations, and serving their needs in the name of Jesus. (E.A.)

In this case – it seems – Father Roberts is one missionary who got it right.  He got to know the people he’d be ministering to, and he “learned their language.”   Here’s to his Feast Day.


“…never take me away from my Indians”

The upper image is courtesy of the link, Wind River Indian Reservation, contained within John Roberts (missionary) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The lower image is courtesy of The Reverend John Roberts, Missionary to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.  The caption: “‘I hope you will never take me away from my Indians,’ the Reverend John Roberts told his bishop.”

Re:  “Mattathias.”  This Mattathias – who died in 165 BC – was “a Jewish priest whose role in the Jewish revolt against the Syrian Greeks is related in the Books of the Maccabees.”  See Mattathias, which said he was perhaps best known for fathering Judas Maccabeus, who in turn is best known for being a leader of the Maccabean Revolt.  In that revolt – from 167 to 160 BC – Judas (or Judah) Maccabee “led an army of Jewish dissidents to victory over the Seleucid dynasty in guerrilla warfare.”  See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that the “Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee’s victory…”

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quote is from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 998.  Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

Re:  Father Roberts’ “personal faith.”  In other words he was “singing his song,” not a warmed-over rehash.  (He was not a “carbon copy Christian.”)  See e.g. “Another brick in the wall.”

For more on Father Roberts, see also John Roberts –

Assigned to minister to the Shoshone and Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation, he set about his work by learning all he could about Native American customs and beliefs, believing that by knowing the people he hoped to minister to he would be more effective.  He also learned the native languages, eventually translating the gospel for his Native American congregates…  His translation of the Gospel of Luke into Arapahoe is online at Project Gutenberg.  Translations of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, Ten Commandments, etc., into Arapaho and Shoshone are also online.

For another blog-post on Father Roberts, see The Good Heart: The Rev. John Roberts (1853 – 1949).


On the True Test of Faith…

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“In the fourth century, St. Jerome struggled to render the Word of God into the language of the day.” 

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Thursday, February 19, 2015 – To the caption above I would add: “It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now.” But back to the topic: I came up with the idea for this post after reviewing the main Bible readings for Ash Wednesday this year, including Luke 18:9-14. There’s more on Luke’s lesson below, but the key question most people today ask is this: “What do I have to do to be saved?” To get to heaven, achieve Nirvana, whatever. What are the rules?

On the one hand there are the Legalists, the so-called Christians who believe the Bible is one long list of rules to follow, and that if you don’t follow each one “to the letter,” you’re going to hell. Or as one site said, legalism is a “doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulating the achievement of salvation and spiritual growth. Christians who sway toward this way of thinking demand a strict adherence to rules and regulations.” 

On the other hand there’s this from Lesson 57: Why Jesus Hates Legalism:

There is probably no sin more tolerated or more widespread in the Christian world than legalism. It may surprise you to hear it labeled as sin. Legalists are thought to be a bit overzealous or “uptight,” but they aren’t usually thought of as sinning in the same sense as adulterers, thieves, liars, and the like. To the contrary, legalists seem to be concerned about holiness. Yet the Lord Jesus had more conflicts with the legalists of His day than any other group…

On that note, in 2d Corinthians 3:6 the Apostle Paul said following the Letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit of the Law gives life, gives spiritual growth, gives personal fulfillment. And may even help you perform greater miracles than Jesus did, as He said we should in John 14:12

Then there’s that Luke 18:9-14 reading, on the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector. A Pharisee, “obsessed by his own virtue, is contrasted with a tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. This parable demonstrates the need to pray humbly.” Or as Jesus concluded, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All of which can cause a lot of confusion – “What do I need to do?” – and which also brings up what might be called “the True Test of Faith.” For starters, imagine two Christians said to be devout. They both die, and they both find out that whole faith-of-the-Bible has been a hoax. They find out there is no God, that there is no afterlife, and that there will be no reward for good behavior during their time here on earth. The first Christian is outraged. “What? You mean I could have spent my life partying? Boozing it up? Chasing women, loose and otherwise?  Boy am I angry, when I think of all the fun things that I could have been doing!”

But the second Christian is a more thoughtful. He remembers the path he’s followed, since he started reading the Bible on a daily basis. He thinks about how his Bible-reading and his path-following have led to unexpected breakthroughs. And he thinks of the time when he got pushed past the Breaking Point. (As in, “bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One,” like it says in the Lord’s Prayer.*)  He things of Peter, at his Breaking Point in Matthew 26:33-35, where he denied Jesus.  And how he failed, just like Peter did…

Then he thinks about the other “testing adventures” he’s had.  Some of those tests he passed, others he failed, but from all he got life lessons to pass on to others. And his life had structure, meaning and purpose, even if only in his own mind. So, after all this thinking the second Christian said, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

That to me is the true test of faith. Of course I do believe in and follow Jesus, and that there’s a better life than this to come, and that the soul is a form of energy that is neither created nor destroyed but merely changes form. (Like it says in the First law of thermodynamics.) I’m just saying, that’s the kind of faith I’ve trying to develop. And that’s the kind of faith this blog is trying to find, both for you the reader and me the Writer.  It also brings up an ancient prayer:

O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell, burn me in hell;  if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise;  but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty.

That’s from On three suitors (a parable), which also discussed problems interpreting the Bible, like the Hebrew style of writing and of interpreting parables in general. On that note, one source said, “We are supposed to create nimshalim for ourselves.” Which all brings up a poetic line, “The Bible was designed to expand your mind.” (To the tune, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.”) But what about those “rules to follow?” What does the Bible itself say about “being saved?”

In closing I’d say the answer lies in John 6:37 and Romans 10:9. In the first Jesus said He would never turn away anyone who comes to Him. In the second the Apostle Paul said if you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, “you will be saved.” No ifs, ands or buts, and no “legalistic” litmus test. 

And those are promises you can take to the bank, spiritually speaking…

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Rabia Basri, female Muslim saint and mystic…”

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The upper image was suggested by St. Jerome: The Perils of a Bible Translator – September 1997, which provided the quote:  “In the fourth century, St. Jerome struggled to render the Word of God into the language of the day.   It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now.”  The image itself is courtesy of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) | Saint Jerome as Scholar.

I used the lower image in Three suitors. See also Rabia Basri – WikipediaRabia Basri is credited for the prayer that begins, “O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell…”

Re:  The Lord’s Prayer and “the Breaking Point.”  See Garry Wills’ What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87; Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”

Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.    

The usual translation of the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  See Wikipedia.  But somehow, based on my own life experience, the term “Breaking Point” seems more appropriate. 

Re:  the Denial of Peter. See also Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33-34, John 13:36-38., and Wikipedia.

Re:  problems interpreting the Bible. See also The Parables of Jesus: Recovering the Original Meaning of Matthew’s Parables.



On Ash Wednesday and Lent

mardi gras

Could these upraised arms have a double meaning, including one not so “indelicate?”



Tuesday, February 17, 2015 –  Even as we speak … I am doing advance penance for the upcoming season of penance.  I am folding what seems to be an endless stream of church bulletins, one set for the noon service tomorrow and one set for the service at 6:00 p.m.

Which brings up the whole topic of Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent:

According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan.  Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.

See Wikipedia.  See also Lent 101 – The Upper Room.  So the “40 days of Lent” are supposed to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent “wandering in the wilderness.”  That act by Jesus mirrored the 40 years that the Hebrews – led by Moses – spent also “wandering around.”

In turn, Lent – a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial  – is preceded by “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday.  This year Ash Wednesday is February 18.  That’s preceded by Fat Tuesday, February 17 this year.

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!”  As Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”

See also A Brief History of Mardi Gras – Photo Essays – TIME, which noted, “Mardi Gras isn’t all nudity and drunken debauchery (though, yes, there is definitely nudity and drunken debauchery).”  (Emphasis in original.)   But the origin of Fat Tuesday was more spiritual:

In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance.  Since they didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets.  They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available.  It was a great feast!  Through the years Mardi Gras has evolved (in some places) into a pretty wild party with little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity.

Lent 101, emphasis added.  Incidentally, there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  That’s because Sundays don’t count in the calculation.  Sundays in Lent are essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is that you’ve given up for Lent.  (A fact overlooked by the writer/producers of 40 Days and 40 Nights, a “2002 romantic comedy film” which showed the main character “during a period of abstinence from any sexual contact for the duration of Lent.”  As noted, the main character could have “taken Sundays off.”)

Getting back to the subject at hand…   You can see the full set of Bible readings for tomorrow at Ash Wednesday.  The highlight is the Gospel, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21, where Jesus warned of “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

On the subject of fasting (and abstinence) –  primary components of the Lenten discipline – Jesus said, “Do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”  Instead (basically) put on a happy face, “so that your fasting may be seen not by others, but by your Father who is in secret.” (Emphasis added.)

As for almsgiving, Jesus said, “Do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do … so that they may be praised by others.”  Instead, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.”  (Which is where the expression the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing comes from…)

And finally Jesus said this about praying in public (and by extension, school prayer):

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret;  and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Are we getting the picture here?  The one thing Jesus kept mentioning over and over was hypocrisy, which includes “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”

I wrote about this whole controversy in On praying in public.  I concluded with a variation of the classic Henny Youngman one-liner,  “Take school prayer…  Please!

 But we digress…

If you’re interested in more history on Ash Wednesday see The History and Meaning of Ash Wednesday.  That site noted the “pouring of ashes on one’s body” as an “outer manifestation of inner repentance” is an ancient practice.  The earliest mention seems to have come at the end of the Book of Job, “older than any other book of the Bible.”  In Job 42:6, after he is rebuked by God, Job says, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  (Not to mention “dressing in sackcloth, a very rough material.”  See also On Job, the not-so-patient.)

And finally see The ‘Splainer: Ash Wednesday and dirty Christian foreheads, about “washing:”

No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual.  But some Christians choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith.

Here’s wishing you a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Lent!



Jesus, tempted in the wilderness during His own “40 days…”


The upper image is courtesy of A Brief History of Mardi Gras … TIME, with the caption:

OK, Mardi Gras’ reputation as an alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal is not completely unearned.  In 1973, a ban was established on Krewe parades in the increasingly rowdy and narrow streets of the French Quarter.  In subsequent years, tourists and other drunken fools descended on the Quarter (especially the particularly saucy Bourbon Street) en masse, and the tradition of showing skin for beads began.  Native New Orleanians despise the reputation, and rarely venture into the Quarter during Carnival season.

Emphasis added, which means “there’s probably some kind of object lesson there…”

The lower image is courtesy of Temptation of Christ – Wikipedia, with the caption, “James TissotJesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert) – Brooklyn Museum.”

As to Job being older than any other book in the Bible, see Dating the Book of Job (PDF), which concluded that the book chronicled “events that took place between 1280 and 1270 BC – about 100 years before the Exodus.  As explained in the below excerpt, it is also evident from the text of the book of Job itself that it is older than any other book of the Bible.”



On Exodus (Part II) and Transfiguration

Exodus: Of Gods and Kings, out on December 12 in U.S. theaters tells the story of Moses (played by Christian Bale, left) rising up against the Egyptian pharaoh Rhamses (played by Joel Edgerton, right)

So we meet again,” says Moses to the Pharoah of Egypt, in Exodus:  Gods and Kings


Yesterday – Sunday, February 15, 2015 – was the Last Sunday of the Epiphany season.  It was also Transfiguration Sunday, based on the Mark 9:29 account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  That ties in with the movie Exodus:  God’s and Kings, because it shows Moses finally getting to the long-awaited Promised Land, some one thousand years after he died.

There’s more on that below, but first let’s get back to the actual movie, “Part II.”

I did an initial review, “Exodus: G&K,” the movie.  This second installment starts with some things the movie left out.  For one thing, it didn’t mention Moses writing the first five books of the Bible, the Torah or Pentateuch.  For another thing, it left out the part about Moses’ father-in-law “inventing the Supreme Court.”  See On Jethro inventing the supreme court.  Third, the  movie left out Zipporah telling Moses, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!  That was in Exodus 4:25, one of the “more unusual, curious, and much-debated passages of the Pentateuch.”  See Zipporah at the inn – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

But mostly this review will focus on how God got so mad at Moses that He didn’t let him enter the Promised Land, or at least not when Moses expected to.  But more on the below…

The movie itself starts with Moses – played by Christian Bale – at the height of his military prowess.  This Moses is a proud, self-sufficient warrior with little or no patience for the reading of entrails (see Haruspex – Wikipedia) or other religious superstitions of the time.

This Moses has no idea he was actually born a Hebrew, and strongly denies that charge when confronted.   (In the manner of Peter denying Jesus?)  He only ends up saying he’s Hebrew to keep the woman presented as his “sister” from having her hand chopped off.

In other words this movie-Moses is entirely different from what we’ve been led to expect.

On that note, some people read the Bible as saying Moses knew all along what he was about.  (Or at least after the Burning bush.)  They seem to believe Moses had no transition to make, from being a prince of Egypt to the offspring of a lowly slave woman, and eventually a fugitive murderer.  (An outlaw, a “lawless person … especially one who is a fugitive from the law.”)  Such people seem to believe that from the moment he did find out he was Jewish, Moses talked on and on with God, like good buddies, and that he – Moses – never had a moment of doubt.

Or argument.  At one point the Viceroy in charge of the Hebrew slaves asks Moses a question, when he – Moses – was still in his role as a devout Egyptian warrior.  The Viceroy asks if Moses knew that the very name Israel, “in their own language, means ‘fights with God?'”  In response this Moses was either well-read enough or open-minded enough to correct the Viceroy:  the correct literal translation is “wrestles with God.”   (For more see On arguing with God.)

And Moses in E: G&K is the opposite of what we’ve been led to expect for other reasons.  For one thing he hears voices, strange and unknown, just like Jesus.  See Jesus as a teenager:

“I fasted for three months.  I even whipped myself before I went to sleep.  At first it worked.  Then the pain came back.  And the voices.  They call me by the name: Jesus.”

(This was on the idea that ” Jesus may not have known the minute He was born who He was.  He found out some time later in His life.”  Just like Moses may have experienced…)

And the Moses in E: G&K is unlike what we’ve been led to expect because he is so full of pride and stubbornness and self-doubt, just like we are today.  And perhaps for that very reason, this Moses was someone God might choose for a special assignment, just as He did with the Apostle Paul.   (As Paul said “today,” of God:  “He has judged me to be faithful and has put me into His service, though I was previously a blasphemer and a persecutor…”)

In other words, from the beginning of the life that he knew – and especially so according to E: G&K – this Moses was strongly identified with the other side of God’s people, just as Paul was.  And yet – like the Apostle Paul – somehow this Moses pulled off a miracle…

I’ve said all along that the Bible would be far more relevant if it was written by people just like us.  And in my view, it is and was.  See for example, Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000:

Suppose the Bible was about – and was written by – people just like us today? What if those Bible-writers had all the faults and failings that we have, yet they somehow managed to personally experience the presence of God, the Force that Created the Universe

The Moses portrayed in Exodus: Gods and Kings is just such a person.

And this Moses was somebody God might punish by denying him entry into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 tells of Moses climbing to the top of Mount Nebo, near the end of his life, to see the Promised Land he’d struggled so hard to reach but would – apparently – never enter:

Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land.  The view from the summit provides a panorama of the Holy Land and, to the north, a more limited one of the valley of the River Jordan…   According to the final chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the Land of Israel, that he would never enter, and to die; he was buried in an unknown valley location in Moab (Deuteronomy 34).

See Mount Nebo – Wikipedia.  As to why God didn’t let Moses enter the Promised Land, there are several theories – some pretty far-fetched – set out in sites like Why was God so upset with Moses and Why Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The best answer seems to come from God’s faithful servant, Moses, which noted that in the fullness of time Moses made a comeback, in Matthew 17:1-8.  That’s when Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain, “and behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah:”

Moses’ faith had its ultimate reward and vindication centuries later.  In God’s economy, promises and fulfillment are not measured by our calendars.  Centuries run their course.  Yet some day in the future, the full meaning of our acts and life of faith will become evident.  That was true for Moses, and it will be true for us.

In other words, Moses eventually did make it to the Promised Land, just not when he expected.

All of which was implied at the end of E: G&K, with Moses sitting in a wagon, heading away from Egypt and toward his ultimate destiny.  He has aged dramatically, but he has the Ark of the Covenant safely tucked away in the back of the wagon, for further review later.

And so – at the end of the movie – all Moses had to do is get through 40 years of Wandering in the wildnerness.  During that time – aside from leading hundreds of thousands of love-to-argue desert cutthroats – all Moses had to do was write the first five books in the Bible, and in doing so convince his fellow Hebrews that they are God’s Chosen people


Transfiguration by Lorenzo Lotto

The Transfiguration, where Moses realized a centuries-old dream…


The upper image is courtesy of Ridley Scott chooses 11-year-old boy as voice of God in Moses movie.

The lower image was borrowed from the post On the readings for October 26, and in turn is courtesy of The Transfiguration of Christ – Lorenzo Lotto –

Re: “As Paul said ‘today,’ of God.”  The New Testament reading in the Daily Office for Monday in the Week of 6 Epiphany is 1st Timothy 1:1-17, which includes the quoted verses 12-13.  (See 1st Timothy 1:12 .)  But while this normally would have been the Week of 6 Epiphany (Book of Common Prayer page 948), it is actually now the Week of Last Epiphany, with a different set of readings.  (See RSV.)

For a fuller explanation see Tables for Finding Holy Days, in the Book of Common Prayer Online:

Easter Day is always the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring
equinox on March 21, a date which is fixed in accordance with an ancient ecclesiastical
computation, and which does not always correspond to the astronomical equinox. This full
moon may happen on any date between March 21 and April 18 inclusive.

The upshot is that since Easter Sunday is a “floating holiday” that ends the season of Lent, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent are also “floating,” as is the end of Epiphany.   All of which means an assiduous reader of the Daily Office must now go through the readings for the Weeks of 6, 7 and 8 Epiphany, to get where he or she needs for “today,” Monday in the Week of Last Epiphany…

On achieving closure

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Friday, February 13, 2015 – One prevailing theme in this web blog is the idea of a pilgrimage, and I’ve done a few of those myself.  This is a story from my latest pilgrimage:

In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude

See “On St. James the Greater.”   (He’s the patron saint of pilgrims.)

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I just got back from a quick – hopefully last – trip to Biloxi.  The mission?  “Achieve closure.”

Just to be accurate, I “e-searched” closure and got this:  1) “the act or process of closing something, especially an institution, thoroughfare, or frontier, or of being closed,” and/or  2) a “sense of resolution or conclusion at the end of an artistic work.”  Yup, that’s it!

The closure involved the canoe-trip noted in Home from a pilgrimage:

My brother and I took eight days to canoe out to some offshore islands … 10 or 12 miles offshore – including Half-moon Island, Cat Island and Ship Island [both East and West…  For that earlier trip]  I drove down to Biloxi on Sunday November 2 [2014], and we left Slidell [Louisiana] on Lake Ponchartrain on Wednesday November 5.  It took us eight days – through the morning of Wednesday November 12 – to get through the Rigolets (pronounced “RIG-uh-leez”) out to the Gulf islands noted above, and back to Biloxi. [E.A.]

Unfortunately, the end of the trip didn’t go as planned…

That November 12, we got up at 2:00 a.m. and hit the water at 3:00 a.m.   (We had camper lights that attached to the bill of a baseball cap.)  Our goal was the Beau Rivage Casino and Hotel.  We could see it shimmering brightly on the horizon, nine miles away over the open water.

Things went well until somewhere around 5:30, when a storm started coming up, threatening from the north.  (The weather forecast called for a bad line of storms the next day.  That was why we had to make Biloxi that day.  The alternative was spending two or three more days away from the comforts of civilization, like running water and not having to “dig a hole.”  The alternative was huddling in our tents on East Ship Island two or three more days…)

There was no real danger, yet.  But then all of a sudden there was no real horizon either.  And somehow, in the gathering wind and darkness and no horizon, the two intrepid canoeists got separated.  To top it all off, we learned that when we – or at least I – looked around in the darkness for my brother’s “beacon,” those camper lights weren’t all that helpful.

As I peered out into the darkness, the light from my brother’s cap – wherever he was – pretty much blended in with all the other navigation lights, the ones you could see “seaward.”

To make a long story short, my brother ended up calling 911.  (On his cell phone.  This was after he tried to call me on my cell phone.  My cell phone was safely tucked away in a dry bag, somewhere in the bowels of my canoe.  And it wasn’t turned on, for the simple reason that for most of the eight days out, there was no cell-phone reception.  Go figure.)

So anyway, we finished the trip by getting picked up by a boat from the Biloxi Marine Patrol…

Ever since then it has stuck in my craw that I didn’t do the whole eight days’  paddling on my own.  (To stick in one’s craw refers to something that causes one “to feel abiding discontent and resentment,” based in turn on something you “cannot swallow, based on the literal meaning of craw (the throat of a bird).”  See stick in craw – Idioms by The Free Dictionary.)

Here’s how I started figuring.  After I got picked up – in my little Rocinante of a canoe – the BMP boat traveled quite a distance eastward, heading back to the marina just east of the Beau Rivage.  (This was after the officers had picked up my brother and his canoe.)   I remembered too that most of that ride was close to the shoreline.  Thus I interpolated that in the pre-dawn no-horizon hours of November 12, I had drifted quite a way to the west of the Beau Rivage.

I also remember that just before the pick up, I’d been drift-paddling toward a piling with a bright red flashing beacon-light at the top. This was about 5:40 a.m.  I figured I’d wait for the sun to come up and burn off the fog.  (The fog-haze that blur-erased the horizon so well.)

So I wanted to get to the pole, but I didn’t want to get there too soon.  I didn’t want to be seen “clinging to the pole,” like some decrepit old geezer who had no business being out there at that time o’ day.  Also, the waves were rolling pretty well.  That meant it would be quite an effort to either hang on to the pole by myself, or tie the canoe up to the pole, only to see it being tossed up and down, and likely to snap the connecting rope.

This saga is continued in On achieving closure – Part II.

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The original post had an upper image, a photo I took near dawn, the morning of November 10, 2014. I captioned it, “Here we are – 10 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico – at sunrise on November 10, 2014,” and noted that “those are clouds on the horizon, not land.” That day we got up and broke camp at 3:00 in the morning.  We hit the water at 5:00 a.m. and paddled 17 miles in 11 hours, not counting an hour break on Cat Island, before proceeding to Ship Island.  Not bad for a couple old geezers!

The full “mixed emotions” reference is Mixed Emotions – The Rolling Stones – YouTube.

The full “dry bag” reference is Dry bag – Wikipedia.

On achieving closure – Part II

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The feeling I had – a bit – setting off into utter darkness on the morning of last November 8…

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Friday, February 13, 2015 – Back in “Part I” we left our intrepid travelers – or one of them – “drift-paddling toward a piling with a bright red flashing beacon-light at the top.”  He – I – waited for the sun to burn off the fog, but wasn’t in too much of a hurry, lest I be seen “clinging to the pole,” like a decrepit old geezer with no business being out there “at that time o’ day.

In other words, I was in no hurry to actually get to the piling-beacon, on that misty, horizonless morning of November 12.  That’s why I was “drift-paddling.”

Besides, I was rather enjoying the sense of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.  But my reverie ended when I saw a boat some distance away, near the edge of the limited-visibility horizon.  It was traveling fast at a right angle to me, and after a bit I noticed that it had some flashing blue lights.  Then – after another little bit of time passed – it swerved and made a beeline, straight toward me and my canoe…

Which brings us back to “achieving closure.”

My brother and I did eight days and 80 miles worth of canoe-paddling on our own.  We’d also camped in and on a salt marsh, and seen nature at her majestic best (and worst).  We’d seen dolphins capering, once just off our salt-marsh camp, and other times just off our bows.

I learned to live on a breakfast ration of one and a half granola bars and tepid instant coffee.  I learned to pitch a tent on a salt marsh, with water sloshing around my feet, only to find that the abundant bullrushes provided a most comfortable bed.  And I experienced that nagging feeling, in the back of my mind as we set off due south from Half Moon Island, noted above…

What “nagged me” was the feeling, as we set off into the utter darkness on the morning of November 8, that we would either fall off the edge of the earth, or “there be dragons.”

The high point of the trip was covering 17 miles in 11 hours in one long day of paddling.  (Not bad for a couple old geezers.)  But in that time I also learned that kayak-paddling is way different from canoe-paddling.  (I’d been practicing paddling a kayak in the year leading up to this particular pilgrimage.)   As I found out, canoe-paddling can be quite a bit more wearing on the abdominal muscles, especially when the paddling follows hour after hour and day after day.

Which meant that when the ol’ BMP boat picked us up, I had Mixed Emotions.  On the one hand I was relieved to get back on the mainland, away from skeeters and salt marshes and the endless rolling that permeated my dreams. (Urp!)  Yet I still had that gnawing feeling of “abiding discontent.”  And so, ever since then I’ve been planning to do something about it.

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Last Monday morning, February 9, 2015, I did it.  The night before – after a seven-hour drive – I got a room at the Motel 6 on Beach Boulevard, four-tenths of a mile west of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.  I woke up at 5:49 – 4:49 Central Time – and found a 24-hour IHOP right down the road, for a carb-heavy breakfast.  I then carried my kayak across Beach Boulevard, over and across the long beach itself, then set out to achieve closure.  It was still dark when I started paddling out, just like on that morning of November 12, 2014.

I set off paddling on a roughly south-southeast course, determined to make sure that the Coliseum stayed visible behind me.  (But then – too late – I realized that I’d left my cell phone back in the room.  That would have been a nice thing to have,just in case…”)

In his Travels With Charley (“TWC”), John Steinbeck noted the map people, “whose joy is to lavish more attention on the sheets of colored paper than on the colored land rolling by.”  At one point, “knowing the passions of the mapifiers,” he threw in (as a sop) a detailed account of all his map-remembered travels from Houlton down to Millinocket, Maine.

And so – since a “Suggestion from the Master is a Command not unlike Holy Writ” – I too will give such a  brief sop.  After leaving the beach across the road from my motel, I shortly passed the Old Harbor jetty to my left, and close to the “Broadwater Harbor AR” (artificial reef).  Not to mention the Coliseum Pier (a citation that may or may not be redundant).

Incidentally, if you check the “Coliseum Pier” link, the Motel 6 is right at the intersection of Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard) and Briarfield Avenue.  And if you zoom out enough you can see the whole coast from Gulfport to Deer Island.  Deer Island is that long stretch of offshore land that ends right in front of the “Hard Rock” and the Beau Rivage.  That was the Plan B we had before setting off that morning:  If we get separated, head east to Deer Island, then hang a left.

(For purposes of completeness, we left that morning from East Ship Island, the one that isn’t all touristy.  To see the full scope, check Google Maps and type in “Ship Island MS.”)

But we digress…

I’m guessing I paddled two miles out in the first hour and six minutes of my mission to achieve closure.  (That November 11-hour stretch where we covered 17 miles actually amounted to roughly six hours of actual paddling, which was still plenty.  In turn that translated to a speed of 1.546 miles an hour, but much of that 11 hours of paddling happened when the sun was up and its heat roiled wind and tide.  But when I set out last Monday, the Gulf was smooth as a baby’s bottom, as it is wont to be at that time of day.)

At first I had that same nagging feeling, setting out in the complete darkness, of either going off the edge of the world or being eaten by sharks.  But after awhile I settled in quite nicely.  I watched the sun slowly come up, off to my left at about “10 o’clock.”  (See Clock position.)

And every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.”  I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.  (One good reason to take such a trip.)

So anyway, near the end of Travels With Charley, Steinbeck explored “the nature of journeys, how they are things in themselves, each one an individual and no two alike.”  One conclusion?  “People don’t take trips – trips take people.”  He’d known trips that were “over and dead before the traveler returns.”  Like in TWC, where his  trip ended long before he got home:

I know exactly where and when it was over.  Near Abingdon, in the dog-leg of Virginia, at four o’clock of a windy afternoon, without warning or good-by or kiss my foot, my journey went away and left me stranded far from home.

Then there’s the other kind of trip.  That’s the journey that continues “long after movement in time and space have ceased.”   Steinbeck remembered the town of his birth – Salinas – where a neighbor once took a trip to Hawaii.  Ever after, the  neighbor could be seen, rocking on his porch, “his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu.”

This last pilgrimage of mine had a kind of in-between ending.  It didn’t end in “Abingdon,” metaphorically or otherwise.  There was too much paddling to do, right up to the end of the eight days.  And after the BMP boat dropped us off at the Biloxi marina, there was too much packing-up to do.  Then the luxury of a long hot shower.  Then the luxury of a big steak dinner…

Even on the long drive home back in November, I had planning to do.  I knew somehow, some time, I’d get rid of the nagging feeling, that “abiding discontent and resentment.”

It had hung over me for over two months.  Then, last Monday, after an hour and six minutes paddling out from Biloxi Beach, I started getting a feeling of at least a bit of peace…

But naturally the long trip back to shore had to be a pain.  Somehow the god of headwinds always seemed to find us intrepid canoeists, whether back on the Missouri near Judith Landing, or on Lake Ponchartrain in 2013.  (We brothers have done this before.)

And so it was for me last Monday morning.

The wind and tide got more and more against me the closer I got to shore.  Finally I headed straight for the west side of the Coliseum Pier noted above, four-tenths of a mile short of my goal, but still “mainland at last.”  After hours on the water, I figured it’d be easier and less stressful to either walk the canoe through the shallows, or drag it up across the beach.

I ended doing a little of both, in an effort pretty much like what would have happened that morning of November 12.  (Assuming the horizon stayed visible, no storm came a-brewing, or that I’d remembered to take my cell phone out of the dry bag and turn it on.)

So as I carried my kayak west along Beach Boulevard, I felt like I’d done what I’d come to do. And that’s how the traveler came home again…”

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I borrowed the upper image from The Blog, and in turn it is courtesy of

Other full “Wiki” references: Half Moon Island (in St. Bernard Parish, LA), along with Houlton, Maine and Millinocket, Maine, from Wikipedia.  Also from Wikipedia, Mississippi Coast Coliseum, Deer Island (Mississippi) – Wikipedia, Ship Island (Mississippi), and Salinas, California.

See also smooth as a baby’s bottom – Wiktionary.

The “TWC” quotes are from Travels with Charley, Penguin Books (1980), at pages 70-71 and 272-73.  (For more on Steinbeck and TWC, see also On donkey travel – and sluts).  The “suggestion from the Master” quote is from pages 37-39, where Steinbeck spoke of Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the “English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician,” remembered as a founder of “The Spectator magazine.”  Steinbeck remembered Addison both for his use of capital letters for nouns and his observing that readers are often more interested in an author’s personal quirks and history than in the finished work itself;  “I have found many readers more interested in what I wear than in what I think.”  See Wikipedia.

I found the “Coliseum Pier” link at Biloxi piers provide great fishing opportunities.

The full citation for Judith landing is Judith Landing Recreation Area – Visit Montana.  See also Missouri River Fort Benton to Judith Landing | Trail Head.  The first pilgrimage taken by the “intrepid canoeist brothers” was also from Fort Benton to Judith Landing.

Travels with Charley ends with Steinbeck back in New York City.  (This was after his trip “left him” back in Virginia.)   He got stuck in a back street, collapsed in nervous laughter and was approached by an “old-fashioned cop with a fine red face” who thought he was drunk.  When Steinbeck explained that he’d gotten lost in his own home town, after driving “all over the country – mountains, plains, deserts,” the officer sympathized.  “Think nothing of it, Mac, I got lost in Brooklyn only Saturday.” Which brings up the last line of TWC, “And that’s how the traveler came home again.”

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On “another brick in the wall…”

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February 11, 2015 – Speaking of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, seen above: I visited that venerable institution on December 26, 2014, during a Christmas visit to Cleveland. One of the exhibits was on Pink Floyd, a band inducted into the Hall in 1996. You can see the full bio at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum |

The group carried rock and roll into a dimension that was more cerebral and conceptual than what preceded it.  What George Orwell and Ray Bradbury were to literature, Pink Floyd is to popular music, forging an unsettling but provocative combination of science fiction and social commentary.

And just for a heads up, some Bible prophets were – like Pink Floyd – also adept at making “unsettling and provocative” social commentaries, as discussed further below.

Pink Floyd’s variation on that theme was undoubtedly their hit, Another Brick in the Wall, “three songs set to variations of the same basic theme, on Pink Floyd‘s 1979 rock opera, The Wall.”

Part 2 of the 3-part set was “a protest song against rigid schooling in general and boarding schools in the UK in particular.” See Wikipedia, which added –  as a side note – that the single version, “as well as the album The Wall, were banned in South Africa in 1980 after the song was adopted by supporters of a nationwide school boycott protesting racial inequities in education under the apartheid regime.” See also Pink Floyd’s The Wall: A Complete Analysis:

Pink Floyd’s the Wall is one of the most intriguing and imaginative albums in the history of rock music…  the Wall traces the life of the fictional protagonist, Pink Floyd, from his boyhood days in post-World-War-II England…   From the outset, Pink’s life revolves around an abyss of loss and isolation…  Every incident that causes Pink pain is yet another brick in his ever-growing wall[, including:]  an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel…

“Compliant cogs in the societal wheel?”  That sounds a lot like what many Christians seem bent on producing, from their take on the Bible and the Faith that comes from it.

That might be another way of saying some people need a very “codified and structured system of belief.”  And those of us who aren’t so certain sometimes envy those who can speak of their faith with such a great sense of conviction and clarity.  But as another “prophet” said:

I don’t have a problem with God.  I have a problem with religion.  I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith.

See Contents, above.  I responded in On “guilty until proven innocent”, which said:  “Here’s a news flash:  If your religion makes you certain, you’re missing the point!

There’s nothing wrong with having a strong “codified and structured system of Christian belief.”  The problem comes when you think “that’s all there is to it.”  That is, some Christians seem to think that’s all there is to the Christian faith.  But to a true Christian Pilgrim, such a “codified system” is never an end in itself.   It’s just a jumping-off point, a place to start learning how to “soar on the wings of an eagle,” to paraphrase Isaiah 40:31.  (See The Blog.)  It’s also a starting point for implementing that Third Great Promise of Jesus, noted in Mr. Chan.

Which brings us back to Bible Prophets like Isaiah.  Such prophets back then were – as much as Pink Floyd in our time – “spokesmen of protest,” the “radicals of their day.”  The Bible prophets frequently stood opposed to the “formal priesthood” of their day, as well as the monarchy.

The priesthood then, as always, was primarily interested in the minutiae of ritual.  This was something that could easily be followed by anyone and generally presented no difficulties.  It might be a tedious way of gaining God’s favor, but it was not really painful…  The prophets, however, were likely to disdain ritual and to insist, instead, on a high ethical code of behavior, something that could present serious difficulties.

See Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 527.  Asimov added that it was both difficult to perform that higher ethical good that Isaiah spoke of, and also difficult “to determine what [that] ethical good might be.”

On that note see On “expressio unius”, which noted the vast difference between the letter and the spirit of the law of the Bible.  Citing 2d Corinthians 3:6 and John 4:24, that post-column said such passages show “God does not want Good Christians to limit their reading, interpreting and living according to the Bible to a spirit-killing literalism…”

That’s what this blog is about.  Finding that life-giving “Spirit of the Bible.”

So if you’re interested in the “minutiae of ritual” – being just another “carbon copy Christian”  –  this blog isn’t for you.  On the other hand, if you’re interested in creating “new paths and patterns,” in and for your own personal spiritual journey, stick around

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The upper image is courtesy of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum |, under the “Visit the Musuem” icon.  The lower image is borrowed from The Blog, and in turn is courtesy of “”

Re:  “new paths and patterns.”  See the notes to On Jonah and the bra-burners.

Also re: new paths and patterns.  See On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?  That post said Jesus made two main promises:  “First, He would never turn away anyone who came to Him.  Second, He came here so His followers could have life ‘in all its abundance.'”  (See John 6:37 and John 10:10.)  This was before I fully appreciated the Third Promise, but did lead to my question:  “Why would anyone want to interpret those promises literally or narrowly?

The original post had a lower image captioned with Isaiah 40:31, that “those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary…”

On the Bible and mysticism



The “Mystic marriage of Christ and the Church…


As noted in The Christian repertoire, “The terms ‘mystic‘ or ‘mysticism‘ seem to throw Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians into apoplexy.  (‘Try it sometime!!!‘)”

One example?  “The term ‘Christian mystic’ is an oxymoron.  Mysticism is not the experience of a Christian.” See What is Christian mysticism? –  Or consider this:

Mysticism is when you get into a mystical state and it’s something you cannot understand, you’re out there in “la-la” land, it’s an “oooh” experience and you’re really not thinking.

Is There A Biblical Mysticism? |  (About one “click” down).

On the other hand – and as also noted in Christian repertoire – a generalized internet search leads to the definition of a mystic as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute…”

That seems to be what Christianity is all about: obtaining unity with God, through Christ.

See also Mysticism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said the term mysticism originally “referred to the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative dimensions in early and medieval Christianity.”   The article Teresa of Ávila – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, noted in pertinent part, “Teresa’s writings, produced for didactic purposes, stand among the most remarkable in the mystical literature of the Catholic Church.”

And finally, there’s the note in “Mr. Chan?”   That note points out page 339 of the Book of Common Prayer, “which says that by sharing Holy Communion we are assured ‘that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son…'”  Emphasis added.

Of course there might be a dark side of the force, a “moral, philosophical, metaphorical and psychic concept.”  See for another example, The Bible and Mysticism – Patheos:

Not all mystical experiences lead to good.  It seems clear that many Germans at the Nurnberg rallies in the late 1930s entered a state of mystical ecstasy as they listened to Hitler in the midst of flags and goose-steeping troops and stirring music…    The test, the criterion of discernment, as William James wrote more than a century ago, quoting a saying of Jesus from Matthew, is, “By their fruits, you shall know them.”  If the result, the consequence of mystical experience, is compassion and growth in compassion, then it is of God, from the sacred.

Which sounds like a pretty good test.

For those conservatives and/or literalists who still want to go old school, there’s a book, Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide, available at, by Aryeh Kaplan:

This practical guide covers such topics as mantra meditation, contemplation, and visualization within a Jewish context.  It shows us how to use meditative techniques to enhance prayer…  Through simple exercises and clear explanations of theory, Rabbi Kaplan gives us the tools to develop our spiritual potential… (E.A.)

See also Judaism 101: Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism.   (You might want to check Kabbalah: An Overview | Jewish Virtual Library:  “Kabbalah is the name applied to the whole range of Jewish mystical activity.  While codes of Jewish law focus on what it is God wants from man, kabbalah tries to penetrate deeper, to God’s essence itself.”)

Judaism 101 did note this “trendy doctrine” had been popularized “by various Jewish and non-Jewish celebrities.”  (See Madonna Kabbalah.)  Then too, “several messages from non-Jews describ[e] Kabbalah as ‘the dark side of Judaism,’ describing it as evil or black magic.”

Heck, you might even say that beginning a spiritual and/or Mystic Quest in an effort to help your favorite college football team win national championships could be seen as part of that “dark side.”  But then there’s that darn passage about Moses, at the Battle or Rephidim, having his buddies hold his arms up, to help his team win.   (It seems that if he got tired and let his arms down, the other team started winning.  See Intro, and also “God’s Favorite Team”.)

Be that as it may,  Judaism 101: Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism also said:  “Mysticism and mystical experiences have been a part of Judaism since the earliest days.”


Talk about  “originalism…”



The upper image is courtesy of Christian mysticism Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption: Mystic marriage of Christ and the Church.

The lower image is courtesy of the same site, with the caption:  “Transfiguration of Jesus depicting him with Elijah, Moses and 3 apostles by Carracci, 1594.”  The site noted:  “[P]ractices such as the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’s Prayer all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values.”  Further, “Jesus’ conception, in which the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and his Transfiguration, in which he is briefly revealed in his heavenly glory, also become important images for meditation.”

Re: “The dark side of the force.”  The full reference is Dark side (Star Wars) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  “The dark side of the Force is a fictional moral, philosophical, metaphorical and psychic concept in the Star Wars universe created by George Lucas.  The Force is a mystical energy which permeates the Star Wars galaxy;  its dark side represents an aspect of it that is not practiced by the Jedi who view it as evil.”

Re: old school.  See for example Urban Dictionary: old school,  and Define Old school at“advocates or supporters of established custom or of conservatism.”

Re: Madonna Kabbalah – Huffington Post.  That site included a number of related stories from the “Post,” including Decade Roundup: 7 Signs We Are Becoming More Spiritually Focused, which added:  “Celebrities such as Madonna, (now known by her Kaballistic name, Esther), David Beckham, Elizabeth Taylor, Demi Moore and Britney Spears have all embraced the Kabbalah.” 

The column On “originalism” noted the term reflects “the view that interpretation of a written constitution or law [ – or Bible – ] should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.”



On donkey travel – and sluts

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February 6, 2015 – I recently learned that one of my all-time favorite travel books – Travels With Charley – was based on an earlier work by Robert Louis Stevenson.  It seems John Steinbeck – who wrote “TWC” – was doubly impressed by Stevenson’s earlier pilgrimage:

In the John Steinbeck novel The Pastures of Heaven, one of the characters regards Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes as one of the single greatest works of English literature and eventually names his infant son Robert Louis.  Later on, Steinbeck and his wife Elain[e] were inspired by Stevenson in choosing the title Travels With Charley.

See Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879) – Wikipedia, and also Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes – Reading, Writing, Working, Playing. All that piqued my interest, so I got a copy of Cevennes from the local library and started reading.  (The 1923 edition of the book originally published in 1905 by Scribner’s.)

The first part of Travels with a Donkey – preparing for the trip – sounded a lot like the first part  of Travels with Charley.  (Or vice-versa.  Steinbeck “packed up” Rocinante, shown below.)

Incidentally, Travels with a Donkey was preceded by a year-earlier An Inland Voyage.  That earlier book described “a canoe trip through France and Belgium in 1876,” with Stevenson accompanied by Sir Walter Simpson.   (See also On coming home from a pilgrimage, on my own voyage, “eight days to canoe out to some offshore islands in the Gulf of Mexico – 10 or 12 miles offshore – including Half-moon Island, Cat Island and Ship Island(s).”)

Here’s what Stevenson wrote about travel, after the preface by his wife for the 1923 edition:

[W]e are all travelers in what John Bunyan called the wilderness of the world … and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend.  He is a fortunate voyager who finds many.  We travel, indeed, to find them…

Getting back to the book, the first of five chapters is Velay, referring to a township in south-central France near the Loire river.   (All five chapters are divided further, and the fifth is divided into eight sub-chapters.)  That first chapter discussed Stevenson’s pack donkey (“Modestine”), along with a description of his own pack and the donkey’s pack-saddle.  It also discussed him as “green donkey-driver,” while the third sub-chapter was titled, “I have a goad.”

It seems Stevenson’s chosen method of travel – with a donkey carrying most of his baggage – posed problems. The worst was Modestine’s slow pace.  That pace increased not a whit, even with the frequent application of a switch, cudgel or “bastinado:”

I promise you the stick was not idle;  I think every decent step that Modestine took must have cost me at least two emphatic blows.  There was not another sound in the neighborhood but that of my unwearying bastinado.

(24)*  But eventually he found a solution, after spending the night at a primitive inn. The innkeeper himself was “astonishingly ignorant,” and his wife said so; “My man knows nothing … he like the beasts.” At which the husband nodded: “There was no contempt on her part, and no shame on his.” Anyway, the solution to Stevenson’s problem with Modestine came next morning at breakfast. He asked the wife where “monsieur” was.  “‘The master of the house is upstairs,’ she answered, ‘making you a goad.”

That led Stevenson to “wax eloquently” on such goads:

Blessed be the man who invented goads!  Blessed the innkeeper of Bouchet-Saint-Nicolas, who introduced me to their use!  This plain wand, with an eighth of an inch of pin, was indeed a sceptre when he put it in my hands.  Thenceforward Modestine was my slave…  A prick, and she broke forth into a gallant little trotlet that devoured the miles.  It was not a remarkable speed…  But what a heavenly change…  No more wielding of the ugly cudgel; no more flailing with an aching arm…

(30-34)  All of which reminded me of Acts 26:14, about the Apostle Paul’s literal and original Damascus road experience.  “When we had all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’”  (Paul was first named Saul.)  Bible Hub gave alternate translations, as in “it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”

“It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to the Jews and anyone who made a living in agriculture.  An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction.  Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh.  In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered.

See What does it mean to kick against the pricks? – (E.A.).

Moving on to “Upper Gevaudan – A Camp in the Dark,” Stevenson was trying to get to Cheylard.  Unfortunately there was no direct route, but he left Sagnerousse, “rejoicing in a sure point of departure.”  From there he got lost, just as Steinbeck was prone to do.  See TWC, 54:

“Don’t ever ask directions of a Maine native,” I was told.  “Why ever not?”  “Somehow we think it is funny…”  I wonder if that is true.  I could never test it, because through my own efforts I am lost most of the time without any help from anyone.

Stevenson ended up tacking through a bog when he saw a group of local villagers (location unknown), including children.  But when he moved toward them to ask directions, “children and cattle began to disperse, until only a pair of [12-year-old] girls remained behind.”   The local peasants were “but little disposed to counsel a wayfarer,” and one “old devil simply retired into his house, and barricaded the door.”  That left him only one source of guidance:

As for these two girls, they were a pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief.  One put out her tongue at me, the other bade me follow the cows; and they both giggled and jogged each other’s elbows.

(41-44)  That sounded like a possible anachronism(Did  he mean they were “promiscuous?”)  So I did some Googling and sure enough, the term had a different meaning in the years from 1375 to 1425 (and up to 1878-79).  From the “late Middle English slutte; compare dial. slut mud, Norwegian (dial.) slutr,” which translated to “sleet” or “impure liquid:”

Slut first appeared in the written language in 1402, according to the Oxford English Dictionary…   At that time, slut meant roughly what one sense of slattern means today: a slovenly, untidy woman or girl.  It also apparently meant “kitchen maid” (”She is a cheerful slut who keeps the pots scrubbed and the fires hot.”).

Slut at  So Stevenson’s use of the word slut was grammatically correct, though it may raise some eyebrows today.

Thus endeth the word-lesson of the day…

Which is being interpreted:  Thus far I’ve read to page 50 of the 197 pages.  Unfortunately that seems still to be a part of the “uncouth beginning” that Stevenson noted above.

The next review will begin with Stevenson referring to the infamous Beast of Gévaudan.

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The upper image is courtesy of Robert Louis Stevenson Trail – Walking in France.

The lower image is courtesy of John Steinbeck – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “Rocinante, [the] camper truck in which Steinbeck traveled across the United States in 1960.”

*  The page-citations – as in “(24)” – are to the 1923 “Biographical Edition” of Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (with a preface by Mrs. Stevenson), Charles Scribner’s Sons (NY).  The “being lost” reference came from Travels with Charley, Penguin Books (1980), at page 54.  I discussed Steinbeck’s take on a dead Sinclair Lewis being “good for tourism” in Oscar Wilde and Psalm 130.

Re: “Elaine” as the name of John Steinbeck’s third wife.  “In June 1949, Steinbeck met stage-manager Elaine Scott at a restaurant in Carmel, California.  Steinbeck and Scott eventually began a relationship…  This third (and final) marriage for Steinbeck lasted until his death in 1968.” John Steinbeck – Wikipedia.

For further information see also Outdoor literature – Wikipedia.

Re: “wilderness of the world.”  For some interesting reading, type that phrase into your search engine.  That should lead to sites as varied as Historical Baptist Quotes on the Separation of Church and State, and The Wilderness of the World: Thirty-seven Wilderness Areas.

Re: 12-year-old girls. See On St. Agnes and 12-year-old girls. The age of the girls is approximate.

Full citations of references “shortened for content and spacing:” 

An Inland Voyage – Wikipedia.

Column (periodical) – Wikipedia:

A column is a recurring piece or article in a newspaper, magazine or other publication. Columns are written by columnistsWhat differentiates a column from other forms of journalism is that is a regular feature in a publication and that it explicitly contains the author’s opinion or point of view.

Personally I prefer the term “column” instead of “post,” as in “blog-post.”  It just sounds better…

Rocinante (disambiguation) – Wikipedia.

What is the Damascus road experience –

Le Cheylard – Wikipedia.  (See also Cheylard-l’Évêque – Wikipedia, as to the location of Sagnerousse.)

“Velay” is actually and fully Le Puy-en-Velay – Wikipedia.

Le Bouchet-Saint-Nicolas – Wikipedia.

Anachronism – Wikipedia.

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On The Presentation of Our Lord


 “Revelers” at Mardi Gras…

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February 4, 2015 – First the good news.  Mardi Gras is less than two weeks away.  (The image above is captioned “Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street.”)  The bad news – as some people say – is that Mardi Gras is followed immediately by Lent, a “solemn religious observance” involving some 40 days of “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.” (Wikipedia.)

And incidentally, that’s not 40 days straight of “self-denial.”  You get Sundays off to enjoy whatever it is you’ll be giving up for Lent.  (Chocolate, rye whiskey, two dollar cigars, whatever.)  That will be explained in a later post during Lent itself…

In the meantime (again), I haven’t done a post on Sunday Bible readings for awhile.  Aside from Jesus “cracking wise” and Jonah and the bra-burners, the last one I did was On the Bible readings for January 18.   That last post noted the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, on January 6th.  January 6 also marked the start of the Season of Epiphany.  See Christian Resource:

For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter.  Depending on the timing of Easter, this longer period of Epiphany includes from four to nine Sundays.  Other traditions, especially the Roman Catholic tradition, observe Epiphany as a single day, with the Sundays following Epiphany counted as Ordinary Time

As I noted in January 18, “That means the Bible readings for Sundays from now until February 15 will be those readings ‘after the Epiphany.'”  There are some exceptions however, and one of those celebrates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

This Feast Day – which actually falls on February 2 – celebrates the episode in Jesus’ life described in the Luke 2:22–40.   Luke indicated that “Mary and Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem . . . to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth.” They were also there “in obedience to the Torah (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12–15.”

Luke explicitly says that Joseph and Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb) (Leviticus 12:8), sacrificing “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”  Leviticus 12:1–4 indicates that this event should take place forty days after birth for a male child, hence the Presentation is celebrated forty days after Christmas.

See Presentation of Jesus at the Temple – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  But by church rule, a Feast Day can’t be  moved back, it can only be moved ahead.  So the February 2d Presentation couldn’t be moved back to Sunday February 1.  It had to be moved forward, to February 8.

Accordingly, the Bible readings for Sunday February 8 are those for the Presentation, not the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.  Those readings are:  Malachi 3:1-4, Psalm 84 (or Psalm 24:7-10), Hebrews 2:14-18, and – as noted – Luke 2:22-40:

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family travels to Jerusalem to initiate the child into the service of God at the Temple and to offer a modest sacrifice:  the caged pigeons or turtledoves held here by Joseph [shown below, a la James Tissot].  Taking the infant into his arms, the aged priest Simeon acknowledges the child as the Christ, or Messiah.

See Brooklyn Museum: European Art: The Presentation of Jesus.  See also Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – February 02, 2015, which told of the Old Testament reading – Malachi 3:1-4 – foretelling the coming of John the Baptist:  “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”  Note also that the New Testament reading – Hebrews 2 – said that through His death on the Cross Jesus would “destroy the one who has the power of death … and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”  (Something else to think about.)

In the meantime (a third time), there’s the upcoming season of Lent to think about.  It starts with Ash Wednesday, February 18, and as I noted in On the readings for Advent Sunday:

… for a time – starting about 300 A.D. – Advent was “kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent.”  And just as Lent today is preceded by the celebration of Mardi Gras, so back in the olden days … Advent was preceded by the “feast day of St. Martin of Tours,” in many places “a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day.”

As Wikipedia noted, tradition says that Lent lasts 40 days “in commemoration of the forty days” that Jesus spent, “before beginning his public ministry, fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by the Devil.”  But again, that Lenten period of fasting and penance is preceded by the “blow-out” of Mardi Gras, thus reflecting the “rhythmic movement between the poles of fast and feast, Lent and Easter, renunciation and affirmation.”  See To Fast Again by Eamon Duffy.

Or in the words of an old-timey (1962) hit tune:  “To every thing there is a season…  A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, and a time to dance…

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The upper image is courtesy of  Mardi Gras – Wikipedia:

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season…  Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.

The original post had a lower image  courtesy of Brooklyn Museum: European Art: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which added a commentary on some predecessors including Tintoretto:

Throughout his commentaries, Tissot refers to both historical and modern sources to demonstrate his extensive knowledge of the Temple precinct in ancient Jerusalem.  He locates the Presentation at the top of the steps that led to the altar of burnt sacrifice.  Further, he takes to task the sixteenth-century Venetian painter Tintoretto, one of his most illustrious art-historical predecessors, for inaccurately rendering the stairway, instead insisting very specifically on a shallow rise for the individual steps, as documented by the historical writers he consulted.

Re: Old-timey hit tune.  See Turn! Turn! Turn! – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, describing the 1962 hit by the “American folk rock band The Byrds…   The lyrics are taken almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes (late 3rd century BC), as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), though the sequence of the words was rearranged for the song.”  See also TURN! TURN! TURN! (Lyrics) – THE BYRDS – YouTube.

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