Psalm 95 Pictured

O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!


For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Thanksgiving (2019)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since this is a great American holiday, here is a poem from a great American Poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

A THANKSGIVING POEM

The sun hath shed its kindly light,

Our harvesting is gladly o’er

Our fields have felt no killing blight,

Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword

We have been spared by thy decree,

And now with humble hearts, O Lord,

We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been

The measure of thy gifts to us,

We erring children, born of sin,

Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of ours hath brought us grace;

When thou were nigh our sight was dull,

We hid in trembling from thy face,

But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land

Hath still been open to bestow

Those blessings which our wants demand

From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,

Looked down on us with holy care,

And from thy storehouse in the sky

Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise To thee,

O Father, good and kind;

To thee we consecrate our days;

Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;

Before thy works our powers pall;

Though we should strive years without end,

We could not thank thee for them all.

(The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar,  Kindle Location 6676-6691)

The Cosmos as Scripture

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, you lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels.

All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards you and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The breath of your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists.

The power of your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of your laws, who reveal the depths of your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of you.

How great are you in your creation! How great are you in man! Glory to You, showing your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.

Glory to You, for all nature is filled with your laws. Glory to You for what you have revealed to us in your mercy.

Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in your wisdom.

Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind. Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.

Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

(Akathist: “Glory to God for All Things”, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 2642-54)

Autumn Colors (2)

48920980682_20f3745d5d

The Bible does not focus much on nature for nature’s sake.  Most often in Scripture, creation speaks to us about the Creator and nature serves God’s purposes, so it allows us to know what God intends or is doing.  I still find the autumn color change to be awesome, and  worthy of showcasing in photos (see also my post Autumn Colors 1).  I don’t have to travel far to see the beauty in creation.

48924672448_045dd7b6f5

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.

(Psalms 96:12-13)

48920692071_31c1165607

So it towered high
above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
and its branches long,
from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the air
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the animals of the field
gave birth to their young;
and in its shade
all great nations lived.

48924659568_b350b18d4b

It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
to abundant water.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
the plane trees were as nothing
compared with its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
was like it in beauty.

48920844146_a552bd1cac

I made it beautiful
with its mass of branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden
that were in the garden of God. 

(Ezekiel 31:5-9)

 

You can find all of my fall color photos at Autumn 2019.

Autumn Colors

48920922262_212187f3a4_w

The Bible doesn’t mention autumn very much nor our beloved fall color change.  In fact, trees are not overly featured in the scriptures.   They are treated as more utilitarian – mostly fruit trees are mentioned, but trees do give shade and wood as well.  Trees still are a favorite of mine and I’ve been out photographing the autumn color change.

48925159046_400521b188

The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.   (Genesis 1:12)

48921036362_37d5211a01

On the first day you shall take  …  boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…   (Leviticus 23:40)

48920265503_194c63a91c

Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever. 

(1 Chronicles 16:33-34)

48925212901_d656543131

All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the LORD.   (Ezekiel 17:24)

See also my post Autumn Colors (2).  You can find all of my fall color photos at my Flickr page: Autumn 2019.

 

Orthodox Theology and Quantum Physics (II)

Beyond These Horizons, Quantum Theory and Christian FaithJohn Breck in his book, BEYOND THESE HORIZONS: QUANTUM THEORY AND CHRISTIAN FAITH, makes an effort to form a synthesis between Orthodox theology, quantum theory and a theory of human consciousness.  This is the 2nd post in a series building upon his book to give further thought to how theology and scientific theory are related.  The 1st post in the series is Quantum Theory and Orthodox Theology.  In that post I suggest that quantum theory actually gives support to an idea not only of consciousness (the observer) but of free will.

Dealing with another of the surprising aspects of the quantum world, Breck notes that humans as observers of the quantum world affect the results of what we are observing.  “Only when we pin down a wave function through observation—that is, measurement—does it ‘reduce or ‘collapse’ to become an actual particle with a specific location on momentum.” (BTH, p 11)   This is one of the stranger aspects of quantum mechanics – at the quantum level ‘things’ have both the properties of a wave or a particle, and our observation of them or our measurements of them, determine what they appear to be – in effect observation determines reality.

Since the universe was unfolding billions of years before there were humans, theists have no problem understanding how God influences the created order on the quantum level.  God is the universal observer watching the entire cosmos unfold.  So there always was an observer watching the quantum world, from the beginning.

5504096566_5e83aa674c

But this aspect of quantum thinking also provides an answer to another question raised by both ‘faithists’ and agnostics.  That question is how it is possible that some see a miracle while others see an event as having a natural explanation, some observe spiritual events while others deny they ever happen.  Is there objective reality or is it all subjective experience?  Or as one of the apostles quizzed Jesus:  “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”  (John 14:22).  There is a quantum answer to this – it depends on what the observer is looking for.

Pseudo-Dionyius (6th Century) describes why it is that different people can come to different conclusions while observing the same event: “For as our sun, through no choice or deliberation , but by the very fact of its existence, gives light to all those things which have any inherent power of sharing its illumination, even so the Good … sends forth upon all things according to their receptive powers, the rays of its undivided Goodness” (THE DIVINE NAMES, p 87, emphases not in the original text).  What one sees, even in relation to something as big as the sun depends on the observer’s receptive powers.   What is the observer capable of seeing or understanding?  What is the observer looking for?  What does the observer believe he or she is looking at?   The observer effects what is seen or understood just like in quantum mechanics.  St Maximus the Confessor (d. 662AD) alsoMaximosConfessor accepted this as a fact of life.  “This fact is indeed of great importance, since for Maximus the Trinity remains a mystery, opening itself only to the believer” (Lars Thunberg, MAN AND THE COSMOS, p 33).   How is it that believers can see the hand of God while non-believers see no sign from God while observing the same event?   It is related to the fact that the observer effects what is seen, what is manifested.  It no doubt explains how a saint can perform a miracle – the events are shaped by what the saint is able to observe even when others can’t observe it.

Continuing with the more mysterious characteristics of the quantum world, Breck writes: “Qunatum superposition entails the linear combination or sum of two or more physical states that produce another quantum state … the duality that marks quanta enables an electron to act as either a particle or a wave” (BTH, p 122).  Such a superposition might be an explanation for John 20:19 in which Jesus seems capable of entering a room despite the doors being closed and locked.  “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”  The resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples both showing He is physically present and yet somehow despite having a material body appears not to be limited by the laws of physics.   He seems to be in two states of existence at once.  At the time of the disciples, no one knew the science to understand how this is possible, but now physics offers a scientific way to understand a ‘miracle.’

thomas_sunday

Existing in two separate states of being at once is not just a quantum thought but a theological concept as well which was contemplated by the Patristic theologians.  As Lars Thunberg queries in his book on St Maximus the Confessor referring to the logoi (that aspect of God which is in all created things):   “Are the logoi transcendent or immanent, are they created or noncreated?  … In a certain way they are, both transcendent and immanent.  Yet, this immanence does not invite us to conclude that they are created.  … As realized in the existence of things, they materialize in the created order.  Yet they are certainly not themselves created or part of that created order in the sense that they are bound by its material appearance or actual realization”  (MAN AND THE COSMOS, p 138).  Many of the mysteries related to the incarnation of God in Christian Trinitarian theology require ‘things’ to exist simultaneously in two different states.  St Maximus himself stated: “Indeed, the scientific research of what is really true will have its forces weakened and its procedure embarrassed, if the mind cannot comprehend how God is in the logos of every special thing and likewise in all the logoi according to which all things exist…”  (MAN AND THE COSMOS, p 140).  Divinity is in everything and yet everything is not divinity.  All of creation participates in divinity and yet has a nature different than that of divinity.   Both the concepts of incarnation and theosis require a superposition of ‘state.’

The theology required to understand the Trinity and the incarnation is helped by quantum thinking as the world is not as ‘black and white’ as physics once imagined it to be.  Reality is full of mystery which is supported by the best of science today.

26854309027_87ecec1333

Breck also noted that some of Orthodox theology seems to provide a bridge to scientific thinking enabling us to better understand Patristic theology.  “In classic Christian terms, that divine Force or Power which issues from the Godhead can be thought of as ‘divine energies’ that are manifested in time and space by the Persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit” (BTH, p 62).  In my my reading of this, ‘fields’ and ‘waves’ which the physicist’s say underlie all that exist also are the very place in which the non-physical and physical interact – the interface between the immaterial and the empirical of the created cosmos.   Fields and waves are not particles but are an immaterial reality (belonging to the created order) which we can detect and account for by mathematics.  It seems to me that it should not be a problem for physicists to imagine an immaterial reality or to know it can exist.  They will no doubt still see this in scientific terms as waves and fields, but for theists it is an easy step to accepting that there are not only inanimate forces but also forces based in a consciousness, forces that are part of a being, which are personal not just mathematical and whose mystery or unpredictability is because they are from a personal immaterial being.  All that theism allows is that besides a created immaterial order, there is an uncreated/eternal order which is the source of all that exists.  Quantum physics is showing us that particles (empirical reality) emerges from fields (immaterial reality).  Theism acknowledges this and sees the created immaterial reality as then being the interface with the uncreated immaterial reality known to us as God.

Next:   Quantum Theory and Orthodox Theology (III)

The Faces of the Flock

48801734427_205fbcced8.jpg-width500-height271-altdsc_0505

“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.

48801183523_645c607489

48801687042_46dd0a93d2

And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. ”   (Genesis 1:24-25)

48801229678_5e9b60b84d

Genesis mentions God created the birds of the air, but there are also birds of the ground whose creation is not mentioned in the beginning of the Bible.  But then the Bible does not mention everything that exists, and in fact does not tell us everything we can know about creation.

48801749582_5192bc54d9

“So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what he would call them; and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name. The human gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field…”  (Genesis 2:19-20)

48801539126_737b895756

48801254283_be0b30f881

According to Genesis, Adam got to name the animals and God who created the animals seems to have been interested in seeing what names the human might create for these newly formed creatures.  Was Adam more of the “Indian rhinoceros” mind or of the “Rhinoceros unicornis” mind or of the “greater one-horned rhinoceros” mind?  The Bible again doesn’t tell us, so we can imagine what we like.    Did he think “scimitar horned oryx” or was he more of a “Oryx dammah”  man?  “Sichuan takin” or “Budorcas taxicolor tibetana“?  God found joy and goodness not only in the animals God created but also in this human and in the names Adam created for God’s animals.   Humans were created to be creative – to share in God’s joy and to give God joy.

48801744797_f531c692db

Genesis 30:40 mentions “the faces of the flock” which Jacob cleverly uses to take advantage of his deceptive father-in-law Laban.   I think God’s flocks include all the animals God has made on earth – some of their faces are below:

48801727387_f6fbd5a0bb_m

48801224108_f1a3952559.jpg-width500-height333-altdsc_0449

48801708907_d41c068812

48801243898_90c7094fb9

All of the photos were taken in September 2019 at The Wilds of Ohio as I took time to visit and see the animals in the wild, though not in their native lands.  All look to God wherever they may be.

48801558351_eb8917921c

You can see all my photos from my 2 hour visit at The Wilds 2019 Photos.

48801586661_65cfde2a10

The Transcendent Myth

This is the 3rd and final post based on my reading of  John Breck’s short story, “A Life-giving Myth,” found in the book, THE LONG JOURNEY HOME.  The previous post is A Life-giving Myth (II).  This post is my taking Breck’s points from his short story and reworking them a bit and connecting his ideas to baptism.

Faith is the search for that language that can describe the relationship between heaven and earth, between God and humankind. It is a relationship which ordinary language is incapable of revealing and expressing. It is a relationship which though ethereal is not merely emotional. And so we rely on ritual and symbol to lead us beyond the limits of human language to put flesh on that which is spiritual. Ritual and symbol are the interface where our physical existence encounters and is transformed by that which is outside the physical, that existence which touches us and envelopes us and yet like flowing water is impossible to grasp.  Ritual, icons, poetry and symbol together enable us to express the narrative which guides our understanding of this world.

In the Old Testament, it is dogmatically clear that God has no form, that God is invisible and transcendent, and yet if God were completely invisible to us, we wouldn’t know of God’s existence at all. God created a world, a physical creation in which we creatures can encounter transcendence. God established a temple to help us experience God. Prayer, chant, icons and incense were all used to help the people experience this transcendent God but to experience God in this altered reality of symbol and ritual and even myth. The chant and the scent of the incense and the smoke wafting through the air are all there to remind us that we are encountering a reality which is physical and yet which cannot be adequately portrayed in language or in art because it is outside space and time.  The flickering candle reveals to us the immaterial world which is yet real.

In baptism, in the church in general, we are endeavoring to open our eyes, the eyes of faith, to transcendent reality, to Ultimate Truth, to the presence of eternity within our time and space, to lead us beyond the limits of space and time, and to the presence in creation and in our lives of an infinitely powerful and all-loving God.
We believe that every atom of our physical being and every movement of our heart is directed by God toward a goal: the goal of life beyond the physical existence, with a full participation in his own divine life.

This God who is ever inviting us to experience this goal, who created a world to allow us to in some mysterious way to experience the transcendent, then enters into our world in the incarnation. God thus not only knows ‘about’ our needs, our suffering and our destiny; God shares actively and decisively participates in them.
So God creates time and space, but God does not leave us to history or history to us. The transcendent God who exists in eternity, outside of space and time, enters into history and shares our history including the pain and sorrow of this worldly existence. He accepts our destiny, becoming one with us, part of the created order. God participates in what is happening in this world and what is going to happen to humanity, to the world and the cosmos. Everything that happens or that God allows to happen has an impact or an effect on God – in fact all of it impacts God!

So God in putting on flesh in the incarnation, takes on our history, and in so doing unites us to eternity. In baptism we put on Christ, we enter into the primordial waters of the Jordan River and become united to Christ and put on eternity. Everything begins in transcendence, in God, but God shares this life with a created order in which we can experience transcendence. God enters into the creation God made in order that we might be completely united to God.  Life in the Church – ritual, symbol, icon, poetic hymns – all point to the transcendent life which is just outside our empirical world, yet breaking into it. It becomes our way to experience the transcendent and to be transformed by God.

As Fr John Breck writes in his short story: “Eternity in fact is ever-present. it is not only beyond time and space, beyond the physical universe. It embraces and penetrates, so to speak, everything that exists, including ourselves.

September 1: Day of Prayer for Creation

creationEcumenical Patriarch Bartholomew several years ago declared that Orthodox Christians should keep September 1 as a Day of Prayer for Creation.  There seems to me little doubt that considering both natural disasters and ones that are caused by humans, it is good for us to be concerned about the planet on which we live and to pray for our world.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”   (John 3:16)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says that we humans are eucharistic beings in that we are fulfilled as beings when we gratefully offer creation and the blessings we have received back to God.   However, we interact with the creation we have received and transform what we have received into our common salvation.  We have to cooperate with God for our salvation.  As Metropolitan Kallistos writes: “Note that in the Divine Liturgy, we offer to God not grains of wheat, but bread; not bunches of grapes but wine.  We offer back to God the fruits of the earth, but we do not offer them back in their natural state; we offer them back transformed by human hands.

8252699978_b489eaeeea

In this process of transformation we experience the transcendent life – God active in creation and creation as a means to our communion with our Creator.  We become co-creators with God, transforming not only wheat into bread and grapes into wine, but then transfiguring bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  In this process we transform ourselves – God enters into our lives and we become united to God.

We are able to vivify, give life to even inanimate objects.  The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Water becomes life-giving in baptism, but it gives eternal life as does the Holy Communion.  One can see this power of love giving life if one only watches a child cherishing its favorite toy.  That toy is imbued with life by the child’s love.  How often children coming to venerate the Cross at the end of services have their favorite stuffed animal kiss the cross as well.  That toy is given life through their love.  They are not pretending, because they do not understand that yet.  They have an innocence which enables them to love something to life.  Adults pretend, but little children do not.  Adults pretend to be happy or pious.  A child simply lives the life and gives that life and love to their toy which is just as alive for them.  They are transfiguring the world, making it all full of love and life-giving.   “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). We all lose that ability as we get older, jaded, more mature.   We regain that ability when we see in the Church the Holy Spirit working love in us that allows us to see one another as members of the Body of Christ, to see bread and wine as Christ’s Body and Blood.

We are given natural resources by God, in the parish we transform these God given resources into the means of our salvation.  And God gives us not only things, but people – the members of the parish.  The people God brings together into community are also a God-given natural resource for which we are to give thanks to God.  God became human in Jesus Christ so that we humans might become God.  This is far greater than just hoping that we might go to heaven someday.  We can become heaven on earth if we allow God to dwell in our hearts now.

Metropolitan Tikhon’s message for the Day of Prayer for Creation calls on us all to praise God for all that exists.

The Eucharist – The Whole Truth About God

We are in a position now to see the duality in the Christian idea of sacrament, corresponding to the duality – discussed earlier – in the Christian idea of the world. On the one hand, sacrament is rooted in the nature of the world as created by God: it is always a restoration of the original pattern of things. On the other hand, it is rooted in Christ personally. Only through the perfect man can the broken priesthood of humanity be restored. Only through Him can the dark, primordial ocean become the living waters of baptism.

Only by way of His cross can the dead world come to new life. Our task remains, but He has gone before, doing the hard work for us. If we kneel to pray, to adore, to offer our lives, we are only attaching ourselves and assenting to His own similar but all-embracing act.

(Alexander Schmemann, Church, World, Mission, p. 225)