To See or Not To See

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders; but to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear    (Deuteronomy 29:2-4)
In the above quote, within a single sentence, Moses tells the Israelites both that they have seen  with their eyes what God has done for them . . . and that God has not given them eyes to see.  Moses must be speaking in some figurative way about seeing and eyesight to claim both things as true.  Though the Israelites witnessed what God was doing, they didn’t fully comprehend it.  They saw the events but didn’t understand the significance of the events.  They saw things happening but didn’t fully realize it was God’s own hand bringing things about.  They didn’t see God in the events.
Moses words are perhaps the description of us Orthodox at every Pascha or at every Divine Liturgy.  We see the Paschal celebration, we see heaven opened, we see on earth what is in heaven, we see Christ risen from the dead . . . and yet we can walk away without seeing God.  God is in our midst and yet we leave the Liturgy unchanged by the experience.
Israel was able to contemplate the face of God in the temple.  It was not just some mirage, but a glimpse of God’s face, however fleeting,  blink and it is gone.    “… like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”   (Psalm 103:15-16)
Yet we have to have the eyes to see it at all, to know that is what we are looking at.  What was it we saw?  Something?  Nothing?  Did we see reality before us or did we really see anything at all?  Every year at Pascha we claim to be witnesses to the resurrection.  At every Liturgy we proclaim, “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly spirit, we have found the true faith…”   Have we?  If we have, would we not be completely transformed by that experience, no longer just living in the world and for the world?
Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the proof these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, shall see the land which I swore to give to their fathers; and none of those who despised me shall see it.”    (Numbers 14:20-23)
There is a warning in this Numbers passage that even those who have seen God’s glory and signs may not enter into the promised land.   Even seeing God’s glory, as wonderful and awesome as that can be, is still no guarantee that we will choose to remain with God.  We might see God’s glory but not be able to see the goal of the spiritual life, the life in the world to come where we abide with God.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.   . . . God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . .  We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brother or sister, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.   (1 John 4:12-21)
St. John can say no one has seen God, but, despite that, God can live in us even if we can’t see God.  We can fully experience God and participate in God even without seeing God!  We can love and thus have God abide in us.  We first have to love our brothers and sisters in this world, those who we can see, before we can claim to love God.   We spiritually move from the known to the unknown.  What and who we can see in this world, we can know.  If we love and let God abide in us, we come to the God of love, to that which is unknown to us, and yet abides in us.  Our hearts and our eyes can be open to see God.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)

Time: For the Lord to Act

For the time is near (Revelation 22:10)

This is the conclusion of a two-part reflection on 2 books by Carlo Rovelli: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics  and The Order of Time.  The previous post is  Rab – ½ R gab = Tab.

Rovelli deconstructs time as he talks about it in terms of relativity and quantum mechanics.  The song (quoted at the beginning of the previous post), “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?”, takes on totally new meaning in the world of quantum physics.  The answer is clearly “NO, we have no idea what time is let alone what time it is!”  Just as our observation deceives us when we think the earth is not moving or when we believe the sun is rising or setting, so too our normal experience of time is completely relative.  Time it turns out is related to mass, speed and gravity which is totally counter intuitive to what we think we experience.   As an old, slow moving fat man living in the lowlands, I experience time differently than the average child running in circles at the top of the Rocky Mountains – and its not just because I’m older and slower.

Ten years before understanding that time is slowed down by mass, Einstein had realized that it was slowed down by speed. The consequence of this discovery for our basic intuitive perception of time is the most devastating of all. The fact itself is quite simple. Instead of sending the two friends from the first chapter to the mountains and the plains, respectively, let’s ask one of them to stay still and the other one to walk around. Time passes more slowly for the one who keeps moving.   (Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time, Kindle Location 353-358)

Those of us who have paid attention in recent years to liturgical talk know that in the Church there are different kinds of time – chronos and Kairos.  There also is the sense of eternity – that which exists completely outside of time, not bounded by beginning and end.  And in Christianity, we have the incarnation and ascension in which the timeless God enters into time itself blurring all distinctions between past, present and future and creating a unity in which eternity becomes temporal and  the temporal world comes to exist outside of time!

There is, nevertheless, an aspect of time that has survived the demolition inflicted on it by nineteenth- and twentieth-century physics. Divested of the trappings with which Newtonian theory had draped it, and to which we had become so accustomed, it now shines out with greater clarity: the world is nothing but change. None of the pieces that time has lost (singularity, direction, independence, the present, continuity) puts into question the fact that the world is a network of events. On the one hand, there was time, with its many determinations; on the other, the simple fact that nothing is: things happen.  (Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time, Kindle Location 806-811)

The theory of relativity and quantum physics have shown that Newtonian physics [which to a large extent accurately describes the world we experience and was capable of getting humans to the moon] does not fully reflect the nature of reality.  Nature turns out to be far more mysterious than previously imagined.  Additionally, so much in quantum physics turns out to be shaped by the observer of the events – as if reality does not exist until and unless it is observed.   This aspect of physics should be far more intriguing to faithful theists than it often is, for it might suggest that the universe, 16 billion years old, was unfolding only because there was an observer all along – namely God.  The will of God might be considered to be that what God observes – not predestining every little thing, but allowing things to unfold in unexpected ways.  And in fact it could not unfold at all if there had not been One observing it.

…we must accept the idea that reality is only interaction…   (Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Kindle Location 207-207)

Heisenberg imagined that electrons do not always exist. They only exist when someone or something watches them, or better, when they are interacting with something else. They materialize in a place, with a calculable probability, when colliding with something else. The “quantum leaps” from one orbit to another are the only means they have of being “real”: an electron is a set of jumps from one interaction to another. When nothing disturbs it, it is not in any precise place. It is not in a “place” at all.   (Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Kindle Location 177-181)

Things do not simply exist – they only exist in relationship to other things.  Ultimately, they need an observer to exist at all.  Reality is thus relational, and certainly Trinitarian Christians would say that relation is part and parcel to God’s own existence.  God as Trinity does not exist alone but always and eternally as a relational divinity – the Three Persons of the Trinity in constant love with one another and now in relationship to that which they created and called into existence.

Rovelli for all his commitment to pure science can’t in the end resist waxing philosophically.  As he considers the human experience of the universe, he writes:

Lucretius expresses this, wonderfully: . . . we are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring . . . (De rerum natura, bk. II, lines 991–97)  (Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Kindle Location 677-687)

Even though we humans are conscious beings who influence and shape the changing world, we still are part of the empirical universe that exists.  Our roots are in the same creation which brought all else into existence.  Yet, we humans have a unique role to play in the universe because of our consciousness and our consciences.

Persian poet Saadi Shirazi. Captured and enslaved at Acre by the Crusaders, Shirazi is the author of those luminous verses that now stand at the entrance of the headquarters of the United Nations:

All of the sons of Adam are part of one single body, They are of the same essence. When time afflicts us with pain In one part of that body All the other parts feel it too. If you fail to feel the pain of others You do not deserve the name of man.  (Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time, Kindle Location 218-224)

To be human is to feel pain, not only our own, but also that of our fellow human beings.  To be human is to be part of the created order – we humans are relational beings.  We relate to each other but also to all that exists.  We not only observe the universe and thus affect it on the quantum level through our observations, we also interact with it consciously and help shape the unfolding of the universe and of time, whatever time turns out to be.  We are capable of knowing things and knowing one another, and observing things from another’s point of view.  Our capacity for knowledge leads us to new relationships with the universe of which we are part, which we can observe, and which we can influence and shape.

as Lucretius wrote: “our appetite for life is voracious, our thirst for life insatiable” (De rerum natura, bk. III, line 1084).   (Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Kindle Location 669-670)

We are not merely the products of a random and indeterminate universe.  Though for science as Rovelli describes it the universe is mostly these random processes working out the relationships of the things which are:

A handful of types of elementary particles, which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and nonexistence and swarm in space, even when it seems that there is nothing there, combine together to infinity like the letters of a cosmic alphabet to tell the immense history of galaxies; of the innumerable stars; of sunlight; of mountains, woods, and fields of grain; of the smiling faces of the young at parties; and of the night sky studded with stars.   (Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Kindle Location 322-325)

The passage of time is internal to the world, is born in the world itself in the relationship between quantum events that comprise the world and are themselves the source of time.   (Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Kindle Location 372-374)

As Christians we know that we humans have evolved to the point of being observers of the universe and thus in quantum terms capable of shaping what unfolds.  We have realized that the inanimate universe is not all that exists, for we have come to know there is a God who observes us observing the universe which God created for us to know God.  We not only observe, we are capable of conscious choice which itself changes the universe.  We are not merely evolving according to biology, for we have evolved to the point of being able to shape our destiny.  And we realize we are not the creators of this reality, but participants in a reality which was created by God.  We thus continue to discover ourselves as relational beings – not just to the empirical universe, but to its Creator as well, with whom we are capable of interacting.   We are capable of experiencing the mystery of time, of experiencing things that defy scientific explanation or which exist beyond the confines of the empirical universe.

So what is this  “time” which we experience?   Rovelli says in physics it can be reduced to this:

if nothing else around it changes, heat cannot pass from a cold body to a hot one. The crucial point here is the difference from what happens with falling bodies: a ball may fall, but it can also come back up, by rebounding, for instance. Heat cannot. This is the only basic law of physics that distinguishes the past from the future.  (Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time, Kindle Location 233-236)

For Christians, however, time is kairos: that which God called into existence so that God can act in that which God created which is not God but which God created exactly to share in the divine life and to become God.

 “God became human so that humans might become God.”   (Irenaeus)

What is the Truth?

“The claim of religion is to reveal Truth, to bear witness to Truth. It is the first and fundamental claim. Its aim is not primarily to bring comfort to souls – by preaching beautiful, edifying ideas and hopes…

The reason it is necessary to believe in God, the only reason which embraces all others is that this is Truth. We have to believe in God because this is Reality, the decisive, fundamental Reality – and life-giving Truth. Only the Truth that really exists, the Divine Truth, can be truly life-giving, truly fructifying, comforting, restoring and truly creative. But this Truth cannot be proved by man. It reveals itself by taking hold of man. It is self-revealing, there is no other way to it. The spontaneous Self-Revelation of a living God who is Truth and Life is the basis of every authentic religious experience…

…there must be a change, we must be transformed by the power of Truth.”

(Nicholas Arseniev, Revelation of Life Eternal, pp. 13-15)

What is the Truth?  Jesus Christ.  All truth leads us to Him, reveals Him and is revealed by Him.

The World is Like a Music Chord

“The world, as intended by the Lord of the Realms, is like music. Every voice—that is, every reasoning creature—must sing its assigned part for the song to sound well. That may sound limiting, as though the notes that determine the fate of the world have already been written, but that is not quite the truth.

There is a great deal of room for improvisation, as long as harmony is maintained throughout. Thus, the low voices must not break the flow of the high, so that each moment is a beautiful chord. Do you understand so far?”

(Nicholas Kotar, The Song of the Sirin (Raven Son Book 1),  kindle 4016-4019)

The Draw of God

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  (Psalm 19:1-4)

Looking across Yellowstone Lake at the snow capped mountains and seeing the last quarter moon, I am awed by the beauty of creation.  I can make myself aware that I am also looking at astronomical phenomenon, as well as viewing history, meteorology, geology, biology, chemistry and physics.  And while I can do all of this without any reference to God the Creator, as a believer, the physical cosmos also tells me about the glory of God.  Obviously nature has no words to speak of, but the believer hears its voice, and knows the words and understands the revelation (see Psalm 19).

Science views all of this ‘neutrally’ – it sees nothing but the empirical world, whereas for the believer the physical world is a sign pointing to a greater reality and to a Creator.  For the believer, the world is not neutral, but is a gift from God to us, not just a thing or things, but a gift that reveals the love of the Giver, and that the Giver of the gift is in fact, Love.  It is a gift that we are given to care for and for which we give thanks to the Creator.  The physical world speaks of the spiritual world for they are the same reality, and it invites us to see beyond the mirco- and macro empirical worlds which are the limits of science and to see into the infinite and eternal.

(Psalm 65:1, 5-13)
Praise is due to you . . .  O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.

By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. 

Creation and nature are not ‘neutral’ in their relationship to us, for they do proclaim the glory of God.  They draw us to God, which is what God created them to do.  They all do God’s will naturally, and invite us to do the same.  Creation is not indifferent to our knowing God but rather tells us of God’s glory so that we will embrace our Creator.  Creation draws us to our Creator – a strange reversal of roles in the world of the Fall, for we were created by God to be the mediator bringing all creation to the Creator.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:19-23)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  (Romans 1:19-23)

We can find similar sentiments in the writings of the philosopher Lucretius who died about 50 years before the birth of Christ.

” . . . we are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring . . .”  (De rerum natura, bk. II, lines 991–97)

More of my photos can be viewed at Cincinnati Zoo 2018-6.

Truth Relies on Us All

The Lord Jesus said: “‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?'”  (John 14:21-22)

St Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384AD) offers an answer to the Apostle Judas‘ question as to how it is that God’s manifestation may be seen only by some when “objectively” the event should be visible to everyone.

“…True doctrine conforms to the dispositions of those receiving the word, for although the word presents to all equally what is good and bad, the one who is favorably disposed to what is presented has his understanding enlightened, but the darkness of ignorance remains with the one who is obstinately disposed and does not permit his soul to behold the ray of truth….

In keeping with this insight of mine, consider the air which is darkened to the Egyptians’ eyes by the rod [Exodus 10:21-29], while to the Hebrews’ it is illuminated by the sun. By this incident the meaning which we have given is confirmed. It was not some constraining power from above that caused the one to be found in darkness and the other in light, but we men have in ourselves, in our own nature and by our own choice, the causes of light or of darkness, since we place ourselves in whichever sphere we wish to be.

Jesus & Moses at the Transfiguration

According to the history, the eyes of the Egyptians were not in darkness because some wall or mountain darkened their view and shadowed the rays, but the sun cast its rays upon all equally. Whereas the Hebrews delighted in its light, the Egyptians were insensitive to its gift. In a similar manner the enlightened life is proposed to all equally according to their ability. Some continue on in darkness, driven by their evil pursuits to the darkness of wickedness. while others are made radiant by the light of virtue.”  (The Life of Moses, p. 69, 72-73)

St Gregory’s answer is based in a clear idea of synergy – God’s revelation, God’s manifestation requires also observers who prepared/open to receive what God reveals.  This idea is reflected in quantum physics where the observer affects the outcome of what is being observed.  God does not even impose His revelation on humanity.  Our inner disposition toward God will determine what we experience of God in our life.  Almost 200 years before Gregory of Nyssa’s writing, St Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) offered a very similar idea:

“In respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, no man shall see God and live (Exodus 33:20), for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict.  For those things that are impossible with men, are possible with God (Luke 18:27).  For man does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is seen by men, by whom He wills, and when He wills, and as He wills.  For God is powerful in all things, having been seen at that time indeed, prophetically through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and He shall also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the Father, too, confers [upon him] incorruption for eternal life, which comes to everyone from the fact of his seeing God.

For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor.  But [His] splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life.  And for this reason, He, [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith.  For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see Him.  It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy His goodness.”  (ADV. HAERESES 4.20.5)

NASA Photo

And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3)

We All Offer Sacrifice and Sacraments to God

We shall only understand the character of the world when we think of it as a gift or present.

The whole world ought to be regarded as the visible part of a universal and continuing sacrament, and all man’s activities as a sacramental, divine communion.

Because man is unable to give God anything except that which he has already received from God, man learns to perceive the world as gift and sacrament by sacrificing something in this world for God’s sake, as a sign of his grateful love, and as the vehicle of this love. God for his part returns to man what man has sacrificed in the form of fresh gifts, containing a new manifestation of His love, in a new and repeated blessing. “Grace for Grace.”  And so an unbroken interchange between God and man in man’s use of the world takes place, an ever-renewed and growing mutuality of love. The more man discovers the beauty and the higher use of created things, and the greater the gratitude and love with which he responds to God, the more God responds with still greater love and blessing, because man is in the position to receive it.

Man puts the seal of his understanding and of his intelligent work on to creation, thereby humanizing it and giving it humanized back to God. He actualizes the world’s potentialities. Thus the world is not only a gift but a task for man. Man is able to mark the world with his seal because the world as the gift of God’s love for man is not the fruit of necessity but the fruit of divine freedom. If it were the fruit of necessity there would be no freedom in it, and it would develop as an inexorable casual process. But it is SO constituted that divine freedom and human freedom can manifest themselves in an unbroken dialogue.

(Fr Dimitru Staniloae, The Time of the Spirit, p. 28)

Send Your Spirit That We May Know Your Love

O Lord, Thou dost love Thy creature;

and who can fathom Thy love, or delight in it,

if he be not taught of Thee Thyself

by Thy Holy Spirit?

I pray Thee, O Lord, send down on Thy peoples

the grace of the Holy Spirit, that they may know Thy love.

Warm their sorrowing hearts, that

forgetful of the afflictions of this earth

they may glorify Thee in joy.

O gracious Comforter, weeping I beseech Thee,

Comfort the afflicted hearts of Thy peoples.

Let the nations hear the sweet sound of Thy voice

Saying unto them, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Yea, O Lord, it is in Thy power to perform miracles,

and there is no greater miracle.

than to love the sinner in his fall.

A saint is easy to love: he is worthy of love.

Yea, Lord, hearken to our prayer.

All the peoples of the world suffer in distress.

All are cast down by sin.

All are bereft of Thy grace, and live in darkness.

(Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 345-346)

God Contains the Sea

Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.   (Genesis 1:9-10)

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.  (Psalms 33:6-7)


I placed the sand as the bound for the sea, a perpetual barrier which it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.   (Jeremiah 5:22)

“Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?   (Job 38:8-11)


You have made heaven and earth with all their adornment. You have bound the sea with Your word of command.    (Prayer of Manessah)

Knowing God

As we honor the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, we have to consider how they struggled so much with finding a vocabulary to express the revelation of God.  They were trying to put into human words the divine: God’s self-revelation.  This issue of finding a vocabulary to adequately express what God reveals exists in the Scriptures as well.  Scholar Terence E. Fetheim notes:

Thus, for example, one needs to ask what speaking of God’s eyes and ears (2 Kings 19:16) adds to the understanding of the relationship of God to the world that living, seeing, and hearing do not. Such language makes the idea that God receives the world into himself vivid and concrete. God’s experience of the world is not superficial; God takes it in, in as real a way as people do who use their eyes and ears. At the same time, in ways that people do not, God takes it all in (Jer. 32:19), and not with fleshly eyes (Job 10:4).

Nevertheless, while examining each metaphor in its specificity is important, the general conclusions drawn continue to be significant. In addition to revealing God as living and personal, they testify to the intimate relationship between God and the world. ( The Suffering of God, p. 9)

The vocabulary we use in speaking about God is born from our experience of of God.  God’s revelation is received by us, we encounter this revelation who is Christ and we are changed by it.  The revelation is not ideas about God nor words about God, but rather the experience of God the Word.

The Christian doctrine of Trinity, in Gregory’s estimate, is therefore not an exercise in speculative metaphysical language, but an exposition of how the Church has experienced God within salvation history and, as such, how it prays. (John A. McGuckin, Seeing the Glory, p. 188)