Tag Archives: faith

The Sacred and the Profane

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“Just as a modern man’s habitation has lost its cosmological values, so too his body is without religious or spiritual significance. In a summary formula we might say that for the nonreligious men of the modern age, the cosmos has become opaque, inert, mute; it transmits no message, it holds no cipher. The feeling of the sanctity of nature survives today in Europe chiefly among rural populations, for it is among them that a Christianity lived as cosmic liturgy still exists.”

Mircea Eliade – The Sacred and the Profane (The Nature of Religion) – written in 1956

PS: Could science (or rather, scientism and other isms) supply the new non-theistic religious experience? Certain ideological positions seem to enjoy “sanctity” status, while others are taboo. There is even talk of “brand religion” in marketing, with brand communities built around a consciousness of kind, traditions and rituals (for shared memories, experiences and behaviors), and a sense of solidarity and moral responsibility among members! Can man make sense of his journey and his life without transcendence, and without a higher authority or a fixed frame of reference (the Absolute)? What do you think?

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Loss of faith

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i swam like a fish to the bottom of my being.

at the bottom of that sea of sand i swam into yesterday.

i drilled softly for the pearls to collect in my little necklace of happiness.

i flapped my little fish tail around and stirred up the sand at the bottom of the sea

to drill for more depth.

to bury myself completely on this side and emerge all the more alive on the other.

to find a shell still intact, a crustacean, a remnant of the great continent’s air fleet, now sunk.

but no. the love had petrified and become

this hard sepulchral distance between us

between me and everything.

insurmountable. and i knew

that happiness was for fish.

all i could hope for was a sparkling bead here and there at the bottom, like a shard of light,

where the ocean just happened to smile on that day.

The commercialization of Christmas…

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… the commercialization of life. 

Living in constant temptation. Craving and crushed by the “loss” of not getting it all. Exhausted by the pain of giving up that which we never had in the first place. Chasing peer-sanctioned matter. Arduously.

Everything becomes a purpose in itself, and none of it is real.

Cosmetics to mask the aging. All the exercise and healthy eating in the world won’t make a single body eternal. Roots struck in the wrong soil.

One doesn’t earn rewards any more – one simply buys them. All the time. And Steiff’s traditional window exhibit of moving toys no longer includes any angels – only cute teddy bears and blind moles.

Receiving the Word with a shrinking vocabulary. Joyless.

Our gadgets offer no connection to the galaxies. Flat rate to flat content. Creatures of the sky walk among us, invisible and without signal.

Oh, who cares, let’s get another hot punch and fried sausage!

“Sans doute, rien n’est plus naturel, aujourd’hui, que de voir des gens travailler de matin au soir et choisir ensuite de perdre aux cartes, au café et en bavardage le temps qui leur reste pour vivre. Mais il est des villes et des pays où les gens ont, de temps en temps, le soupçon d’autre chose. (…) Oran, au contraire, est apparemment une ville sans soupçons, c’est à dire une ville tout à fait modèrne.” – Albert Camus, La peste.

Having eyes and yet not seeing. Not even capturing the light.

Life

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If you are reading this, I have a question for you: Why are you online? What do you hope to find here? Do you feel alive? What are we all doing here? What are we searching for? Entertainment, knowledge, inspiration, communication? Is it not becoming a terrible waste of time? And time, after all, is all we have. Time is the currency of our souls. And too often we are wasting it in petty gossip and mediocre readings and bored voyeurism on the Web. The amount of information one has to sift through to get to a gem is simply crushing. Besides, text alone isn’t communication. Yes, words can move people. But all too often text without voice, text without gestures, text without human touch is misleading or misunderstood. Are we not deluding ourselves that being active online will fill up the void?

Wonderful insight by Thoreau in his famed “Walden”: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call LIFE which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

We were not born for surrogates. We were born for infinity. Instead of popping pills – succumb to the ecstasy of prayer. Prayer is the connection to the home before the womb. Some of us travel the world. And some of us travel the worlds. Transcend. What is the purpose of life? The purpose of life is to become complete, to attain bliss. To love, to grow wiser and in the end, to be united with God. Therein lies true happiness. The purpose of life is the breath-taking and often cruel beauty of the truth, and the inexplicable truth of genuine beauty. Or, as Panait Istrati puts it, first the sun, and then the food, the clothes and the work at the plant.

I think we have taken to worshiping our own selves. There is a god for every man and woman – that whom we see every day in the mirror. Me Almighty. Alas, he’s only a creature and not the Creator. This god cannot lend life a meaning. It runs around in circles and then it decays – that is all. And we think ourselves free only because we always give in at the get-go and never put up a fight. But the truth is, the things we cannot resist are much more powerful than us, because of it. They rule us, they consume us, and we are the ones who end up ground to ashes. Not the other way around. Another great illusion shattered. This “god” is fake. In being so hung up on our objects, weaknesses and failures, we are worshiping the carcasses of dreams instead of the living truth.

Grow a tomato plant, bake a loaf of bread, hold your children and tell them a long story, caress your lover’s hair, walk slowly, protect the silence. Are you in touch with the macrocosm? If that star were to shine in your sky tonight, would the Son of God find a decent enough place to be born inside you?… It doesn’t have to be rich (for He will make it so afterwards). Is it clean and warm? At the end of the day, when all the nice homes are locked and bolted, He will settle for the one humble stable that keeps an open door.

And all of us control freaks, engineers of our own demise, will stare out into darkness, lonely and clueless, because we wanted to be “free”.

Advent, advent…

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Just when I was running out of ideas for posts, my son (not yet 6 years old) found out there is no Santa Claus.

Their kindergarten teacher told them. Maybe the increasing commercialization of Christmas finally got to her, or maybe she was trying to explain the local traditions despite the onslaught of American popular culture, I don’t know, but I am relieved. Actually, I could say I am grateful. Now the road is open for those deeper and more important talks about why we really celebrate Christmas.

“There’s no such thing as Santa Claus”, the lady was supposedly heard saying. “There was a St. Nicholas, but I don’t know much about him. And then there’s the Christkindl.” Correct. All true. He wasn’t shocked or sad. I think he suspected it somehow. We had already begun telling him that the biggest gift of Christmas is the gift of kindness, life, and salvation that God bestows upon us through His child, and that sometimes, when Santa can’t make it, he sends his gifts through parents, because, after all, that’s how we all show we care about each other. We didn’t want him to be completely clueless and stand there like an idiot when the older kids in school would mess with his brain…

So last night, after he opened up about this news, I was able to hold him tight and tell him the true story of St. Nicholas of Myra, who lived between 270 and 343, and talk to him about the birth of Jesus Christ, the kings bringing him gifts with special meanings, and how we all follow that spirit and give each other gifts in celebration that our good Lord is born.

The only one who was saddened, as if a bad thing had happened, was the grandma. 🙂 She felt sorry for him, that the lady was too blunt, that it is too soon, that now he no longer believes in the “magic” of Christmas. It is always amazing to me how people will cling to a lie just because it’s tradition. Believing is only a virtue if you believe in the truth. Only then does it carry fruit. After all, if you think about it, this whole Santa affair doesn’t necessarily help faith. Quite the contrary: “You told me there’s a Santa, and there isn’t. You told me there’s the Easter Bunny, and there isn’t. Now you expect me to believe there is a God?!…”

I think Christmas will still be magical. The magic of Christmas is elsewhere. In that miraculous birth, in the Church lighting up with the sound of Christmas carols, in snow, in our special family time and our love for each other. ( Besides, I have a feeling he’s going to carry on the Santa charade in public anyway. He’s too afraid to lose the “loot” that comes from grandma under the Santa Claus pretense. 🙂 )

P.S. And something else happened today, too. Something unheard of. For those of you who have never met a German bus driver, I must say most of them are pretty tough. They live under tremendous stress (have to be punctual!) and are known to really scold you if you are not at the station on time, or if they have to wait even 5 seconds for you (it has happened to hugely pregnant women, too). And most of all, they never, never, NEVER, stop to pick up people or let people get off between stations. Well today, in this wet blizzard, a mother was carrying her child, trying desperately to hold the umbrella above both of their heads, stepping in puddles and getting all wet from the snow. The driver pulled up (between stations!) asked if she’s headed for the kindergarten (which is also between stations) and beckoned her to get on the bus. No questions asked.

Now THAT is the true spirit of Christmas…

Knock-knock! Who’s there? Depression season!

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They’re here. The long, cold, damp winter months with their smothering darkness. So bring out those UV and infrared lamps and steer clear of depression.

By the way, what is the deal with this depression epidemic nowadays? Is it the sensory deprivation of our virtual environment, the lack of true friends, the materialism, the stress, too little love, too little physical work, not enough time spent outdoors? Do we even invest our happiness cleverly? Do we depend too much on convenience, perhaps? Do we allow ourselves to be possessed and driven by finite things?

To be honest, we probably shouldn’t complain. We are privileged. So what if the things we want don’t just fall in our laps? We can’t build character by theorizing cozily in front of the TV, there has got to be some level of effort involved in making our lives more meaningful. Hard work, family, community involvement – these should be catalysts. If they’re in the right balance, they can energize us instead of exhausting us.

So why is depression threatening to become the plague of the century in the postmodern world? Do we have it too easy? Do we have too much time to get bored? Have we seen it all? Is there nothing out there that can inspire us, and enthrall us, and give us hope on a profound level? Or have our societies and expectations become too complex, too competitive, too tough to navigate? Why do so many people feel helpless, abandoned, and overwhelmed by scary forces way beyond their ability to cope? What is the missing ingredient? Could it be…. (oh, no! – gasp of horror – we’re enlightened people!)… could it be God???

I can’t help but remember the homesick asylum-seeker from northern Iraq. “We lacked nothing over there; we had everything we needed. I only left to save my children from the bombs.”  Then he’d take out a picture and show us his great fortune: a mud house and two goats. That was enough to him. That was his notion of “enough“. What was he thinking? What was his angle? He didn’t even complain about the church service being too long (he was an Orthodox christian). In their village, it lasted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In our congregation, we come in at 10:30 and get itchy feet at noon…

The answer has to be more truth, more spirituality.  An ephemeral and relativized existence, completely “rooted” in the quicksands of the here and now, and as a grand finale our irreversible transformation into food for worms – that doesn’t offer a very cheery perspective, does it? Besides, if you think you are the center of the Universe, that can only lead to depression. Because you will assign the same degree of importance to your problems, too. And that in turn will make them seem cataclysmic. The laws of physics tell us that objects close by appear larger, and objects farther away appear smaller. Sometimes, the farther away we are from God, the more it seems like He has no place in the world, that He’s negligible. Yeah, right… about as negligible as the Sun – from where we stand, that’s also just a “small” ball of fire in the sky, and yet it inexorably lights and warms up our lives. And just because it’s hidden behind some clouds, you don’t have to give up trusting that it exists. Or that it makes life possible.

So forget your worries.  The sun will shine again. (Even though, in some parts of Germany, that is hard to believe 🙂 ).

Everything is taken care of on a higher level.

Just an inkling

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Maybe that’s why young people everywhere are lured by all sorts of fundamentalist ideologies: They feel the same nostalgia for a simpler, clearer, more honest past. A straightforward past of black and white. That seems authentic to them. It’s important to relativize in order to protect basic rights and freedoms, but too much relativity, in all aspects of life, can be extremely tiring. It is a form of uncertainty.  And too much uncertainty always leads to some form of authoritarian manifestation.

It’s simpler to say this or that, friend or foe, than try to reconcile the two.

Besides, in a world of fake love and feigned interest, those guys’ hate seems real. And real is hard to come by these days.  So yeah, that gives hate a certain aura. The aura of people living out their convictions, no matter how horrendous. What do we live? What do we even believe in anymore? What meaning can we offer our kids to make them stay away from the hate preachers?… That kind of meaning, of reason, of heartwarming faith that gives a soul stability through a lifetime of torments, that is the coolest endowment. That’s what parenting is about.

Instead, we buy them brand clothing and gadgets. The moment you take off that shirt, you’re nobody. How sad.

Paradox of our existence

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That you cannot keep any of it. That is the most sadistic part of life, its sardonic grin. That you cannot keep that which you hang on to the most, that which you love the most, that which is most said to be yours. You cannot keep that which you are held most responsible for, and you cannot keep it no matter how hard you try. That you are just a vessel for a fluid, but forced to act your part in life’s charade like the most individualized and concrete of selves, to love and to hurt and to save other illusory selves who are nothing but vessels for the same fluid, and whose only significantly different feature is their outer shell. And then comes Jesus, and this man is suddenly no shell, but the concentrated, godly, glittering fluid itself. And even then the world spins round the same as before, and you cannot hold on to anything, not even a corpse, longer than three days, and yet you are made responsible to love and to save.

That you aren’t even aware what goes on behind you or inside you; that you were born with a legacy you don’t know and don’t get to choose; that you can’t even explain why people do things to you and you to them, and that you have to feel your way in the dark and stand judgement for even the slightest misstep. That this obsession with judgement leads to an obsession with control – control yourself, control your environment, control other people – and all this horrible stress of not actually being able to control anything builds up into an explosive heap of even more bad deeds…

That you don’t really own yourself. That as much as you would like to, it would be wrong. You cannot own that which you did not create.  It was given to you. You did not exist and then, suddenly, one day you were. You just were. Your life isn’t essentially yours. Your life does belong to other people, annoying as that may seem, your life is interconnected and interwoven with a million fine threads with the life of who knows what stranger in the street. Your life is the fluid you received from above, and which is essentially just a lease on life, never full ownership, and most of the time you lose the weightless glitter along the way.

That you are a short-lived butterfly, a leaden butterfly at times, but a butterfly nevertheless, and one which used to be full of color and full of beauty and waft in the sun. That all these “horrible” people around you used to be pure and smell like milk. That we make each other horrible.

That your spirit often feels heavier than your body.