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Thoughts & Visions




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Thoughts & Visions


  Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Thanksgiving after Communion

After Holy Communion we should spend some time in adoring Our Lord, in thanking Him for the grace we have received, and in asking Him for the blessings we need.

Among Lutheran denominations, the following prayer may be said silently following the reception of the Eucharist:

“Almighty and everlasting God, I thank and praise you for feeding me with the life-giving body and blood of your beloved son Jesus Christ. Send your Holy Spirit that, having with my mouth received the holy Sacrament, I may by faith obtain and eternally enjoy your divine grace, the forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and everlasting life; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.”

  Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Stephen Colbert on Suffering

He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.”


  Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Hildegard von Bingen

In addition to the Ordo Virtutum Hildegard composed many liturgical songs that were collected into a cycle called the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. The songs from the Symphonia are set to Hildegard’s own text and range from antiphons, hymns, and sequences, to responsories. Her music is described as monophonic, that is, consisting of exactly one melodic line. Its style is characterized by soaring melodies that can push the boundaries of the more staid ranges of traditional Gregorian chant. Though Hildegard’s music is often thought to stand outside the normal practices of monophonic monastic chant, current researchers are also exploring ways in which it may be viewed in comparison with her contemporaries, such as Hermannus Contractus. Another feature of Hildegard’s music that both reflects twelfth-century evolutions of chant and pushes those evolutions further is that it is highly melismatic, often with recurrent melodic units. Scholars such as Margot Fassler, Marianne Richert Pfau, and Beverly Lomer also note the intimate relationship between music and text in Hildegard’s compositions, whose rhetorical features are often more distinct than is common in twelfth-century chant. As with all medieval chant notation, Hildegard’s music lacks any indication of tempo or rhythm; the surviving manuscripts employ late German style notation, which uses very ornamental neumes. The reverence for the Virgin Mary reflected in music shows how deeply influenced and inspired Hildegard of Bingen and her community were by the Virgin Mary and the saints.

The definition of viriditas or “greenness” is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that overcomes dualisms. This “greenness” or power of life appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.

Despite Hildegard’s self-professed view that her compositions have as object the praise of God, one scholar has asserted that Hildegard made a close association between music and the female body in her musical compositions. According to him, the poetry and music of Hildegard’s Symphonia would therefore be concerned with the anatomy of female desire thus described as Sapphonic, or pertaining to Sappho, connecting her to a history of female rhetoricians.


  Monday, August 24th, 2015

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo is a genus of highly unusual non-flowering plants. The scientific name is also used as the English name. The order to which it belongs, Ginkgoales, first appeared in the Permian Age roughly 250 million years ago, possibly derived from “seed ferns” of the order Peltaspermales. The rate of evolution within the genus has been slow, and almost all its species had become extinct by the end of the Pliocene; the exception is the sole living species, Ginkgo biloba, which is only found in the wild in China, but is cultivated across the world. The relationships between ginkgos and other groups of plants are not fully resolved.

The leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade, sometimes bifurcating (splitting), but never anastomosing to form a network. Two veins enter the leaf blade at the base and fork repeatedly in two; this is known as dichotomous venation. The leaves are usually 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in), but sometimes up to 15 cm (5.9 in) long. The old popular name “maidenhair tree” is because the leaves resemble some of the pinnae of the maidenhair fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris. Ginkgos are prized for their autumn foliage, which is a deep saffron yellow.

The relationship of ginkgo to other plant groups remains uncertain. It has been placed loosely in the divisions Spermatophyta and Pinophyta, but no consensus has been reached. Since its seeds are not protected by an ovary wall, it can morphologically be considered a gymnosperm. The apricot-like structures produced by female ginkgo trees are technically not fruits, but are seeds that have a shell consisting of a soft and fleshy section (the sarcotesta), and a hard section (the sclerotesta).

Extreme examples of the ginkgo’s tenacity may be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where six trees growing between 1–2 km from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. Although almost all other plants (and animals) in the area were killed, the ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again. The six trees are still alive: they are marked with signs at Housenbou (報専坊?) temple (planted in 1850), Shukkei-en (planted about 1740), Jōsei-ji (planted 1900), at the former site of Senda Elementary School near Miyukibashi, at Myōjōin temple, and an Edo period-cutting at Anraku-ji.

In Asiatic folklore, the gingko tree is considered sacred to Buddhists, which often propagate and cultivate trees in their temples. While very little mythology has been transferred to the Western world with regards to the esoteric function of the gingko tree, its long-lived nature usually features in Japanese folklore. It is believed in earlier times that extremely old gingkos housed kami, the animistic spirits that are inherent in all things.

cucumber slice

  Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Cucumber blessing

Cucumber blessing is an Adhiṣṭhāna practised at the Shingon Buddhist temples in summer. In a Cucumber blessing meeting, the priest and believers together pray that they can pass the season of hot summer in good health, like the fresh cucumbers.

Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, is said to have initiated this practice of blessing.

  Tuesday, August 18th, 2015


Is hungry ghost syndrome for unsavored aloneness, i.e., solitude.


  Saturday, August 15th, 2015


Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion. Takoyaki are brushed with takoyaki sauce, similar to Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise. The takoyaki is then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito (katsuobushi). There are many variations to the takoyaki recipe, for example, ponzu (soy sauce with dashi and citrus vinegar), goma-dare (sesame-and-vinegar sauce) or vinegared dashi.

Takoyaki was first popularized in Osaka, where a street vendor named Tomekichi Endo is credited with its invention in 1935. Takoyaki was inspired by akashiyaki, a small round dumpling from the city of Akashi in Hyōgo Prefecture made of an egg-rich batter and octopus. Takoyaki was initially popular in the Kansai region, and later spread to the Kantō region and other areas of Japan. Takoyaki is associated with yatai street food stalls, and there are many well-established takoyaki specialty restaurants, particularly in the Kansai region. Takoyaki is now sold at commercial outlets, such as supermarkets and 24-hour convenience stores.

A takoyaki pan is typically a griddle made of cast iron with half-spherical moulds. The heavy iron evenly heats the takoyaki, which are turned with a pick during the cooking process to pull the uncooked batter to the base of the rounded cavity.

  Monday, August 10th, 2015

Seiza: traditional Japanese sitting posture

Seiza means the “proper” or “right” way of sitting. This is the posture adopted on formal occasions in traditional Japanese culture, especially when sitting on tatami mats. In this position, the knees are bent 180 degrees with the calves tucked under the thighs so that you sit on your heels, toes pointed.

At the beginning and end of Japanese martial arts classes, e.g. aikido, karate, judo, etc., participants will sink into this position, teachers and students bowing to each other in respect. Seiza is also integral to traditional Japanese arts such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement or calligraphy. It is used during Buddhist meditation and while performing on traditional musical instruments such as the koto. In the past, the Japanese had their daily lives based around seiza and always adopted this formal posture for eating, reading, writing, making conversation, and various other indoor activities.

Those unfamiliar with seiza will likely find that maintaining it for more than a minute or two tends to lead to loss of circulation, with the accompanying “pins and needles” feeling, followed by painful burning sensations, and then eventually complete numbness in the legs. However, the physical discomfort lessens with experience as the circulation of the blood improves. Experienced seiza practitioners can maintain the posture for forty minutes or more with minimal discomfort.

  Friday, August 7th, 2015

upon reading Anne Dillard

Extraordinary writing assembles a latticework which by itself is nothing, except in what it does to the meaning streaming through it via its subtle, earnest and intuitive structuring. Through the magic of its shape, meaning is attracted and concentrated; the ocean in which our consciousness dwells is prompted to manifest degrees of wetness, becoming beautifully non-uniform, and can thus be encountered.

Much as a stained glass window exists only to admit the light.

  Thursday, August 6th, 2015

An Expedition to the Pole

I have a taste for solitude, and silence, and for what Plotinus called “the flight of the alone to the Alone.” I have a taste for solitude. Sir John Franklin had, apparently, a taste for backgammon. Is either of these appropriate to conditions?

You quit your house and country, quit your ship, and quit your companions in the tent, saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” The light on the far side of the blizzard lures you. You walk, and one day you enter the spread heart of silence, where lands dissolve and seas become vapor and ices sublime under unknown stars. This is the end of the Via Negativa, the lightless edge where the slopes of knowledge dwindle, and love for its own sake, lacking an object, begins.

—Anne Dillard

  Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Hunger for God

…bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself. When we eat, we taste the emblem of our heavenly food—the Bread of Life. And when we fast we say, “I love the Reality above the emblem.” In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship. Both magnify Christ. Both send the heart—grateful and yearning—to the Giver. Each has its appointed place, and each has its danger. The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower.

—John Piper

  Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Thoughts of the Day

3/23/07—The Earth is both round & moving, yet I fail to perceive these facts because of the limitations of my senses. Space is actually warped by gravity, yet I fail to perceive this fact for the same reason. So when I fail to perceive God, I’m inclined to blame it not on His absence but on the limitations of my senses. To me, that seems only, uh, sensible!

10/18/07—I admit it: like King David in the Psalms, I frequently quarrel with God. But also as in the case of David, each quarrel ends with a renewed feeling of contented resignation to His will, all anger gone. Yes, in other words, my relation with God is often stormy, but like other storms, it clears the air.

10/9/07—If you hate someone, let not your heart be like a womb, in which the hatred can only grow, but like a cocoon, in which it can transform itself from something unspeakably ugly to something unspeakably beautiful: forgiveness.

5/10/04—I don’t know about you, but I succumb to temptation not because my will is weak but because the Devil persuades me that I’d be an idiot to exercise it!

8/22/05—Failure to apply the insights that come with life’s autumn is more regrettable than failure to enjoy the delights that come with life’s springtime, since insights applied bring deeper & more lasting satisfaction than delights enjoyed. More lamentable, in short, than wasted youth is wasted age.

9/1/99—The secular humanist says, “Man is to be called holy.” The Christian says, “Man is called to be holy.”

5/2/05—Full disclosure: I’m pro-life. That said, of the many reasons given in favor of abortion, by far the least persuasive is that it will spare an unwanted child a miserable life. With compassion like that, who needs heartlessness!

4/20/05—Only the Devil & his angels are certainly damned, for only they fully knowingly do evil. Not so humans, who do evil because mistakenly thinking or feeling it to be good, or mistakenly believing it to be nonexistent. Thus, of no humans—not even Hitler, Timothy McVeigh, or the rash of child rapists & murderers in the news lately—can we say with certainty that they are damned. I point this out not to underplay the malevolence of man but to underscore the mercy of God.

4/19/05—I like to think that Nature herself is reluctant to see our most significant, special, & precious moments pass, & so she contrives to extend their lives—a contrivance called memories.

4/12/01—The extraordinary amount & degree of ugliness in the arts today just may be the fould odor given off by the rotting corpses of the artists’ faith & hope.

8/30/05—The circle symbolizes what God is in fact: perfection. How appropriate, then, that God, like two points on a circle, is actually closest when seemingly farthest away.

Unknown—A conservative can be saved from arrogance by the knowledge that God is supreme; a liberal can be saved from paternalism by the knowledge that God has made all free & with the capacity to help themselves.

7/19/05—You’ve heard the song “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” Well, whether God promised me one or not, a rose garden of a life is what He’s given me. The roses are lovely, but oh so many & such sharp thorns! Still, the roses have always outnumbered the thorns. Plus the thorns have taught me valuable lessons about the advisability of plucking the roses of life’s pleasures with caution & care. So thank you, God, for the rose garden.

—Jerold Stock

  Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Creativity and Relationship

The medieval Sufi mystic Hafiz declares that “art is the conversation between lovers.” This insight would seem to echo the emphasis we have seen previously on the heart and art. If art is central to our hearts, then art meets art where heart meets heart. The musician reaches out to touch the hearts of her listeners. The painter reaches out to touch the hearts of his observers. The playwright and actor reach out to grab the hearts of their audience. And so it goes.

But the hearts of the lovers that art touches are not just the human lovers in our lives. God, too, is a lover. God’s art has touched our hearts, and our art touches the Divine heart. How are we lovers with God? How much play goes on between us? How many fairly fought fights? How much laughter and teasing and joint dreaming and scheming? Just how does our art constitute a conversation with God as lover? The effort we put into our work is our gift to God.

Otto Rank taught that ultimately every gift the artist gives is a gift to God. We cannot get away from it. Our many gifts are God-given and so their return is a God-return. No one who gives a gift wants to see it unused. Nor does God. So all our gifts are a return on God’s gift-giving, an act of generous gratitude for the gifts of our intelligence, our observation, our imagination, our very being in the world and the universe itself.

Lovers want to gift one another with gifts, to surprise one another and to make one another happy. Hafiz is wise to apply these actions of mutuality and gratitude and play to our relationship with the Divine. Art becomes the language, the conversation at play between the God-who-is-lover and the human-who-is-lover. It raises the human from being merely the “beloved” to also being a lover. And it raises God from being just a “lover” to also being the “beloved.” To be a co-creator is to be a lover. In this way our work becomes an act of love, a work of art, a conversation between lovers. That is a good thing, for it sacralizes our work and renders its results grace-like.

—Matthew Fox

  Friday, July 24th, 2015

The End of Solitude

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover—and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect—that having nothing to do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world.

So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn’t call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn’t always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn’t always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.

—William Deresiewicz

  Friday, July 24th, 2015

There is a Way

I’ve read all of these postings and I know exactly how each of you feel. It’s so disheartening to spend all but the last couple of hours of each day exercising and eating perfectly only to give in to those late-evening cravings that seem to have nothing to do with physical hunger. I’ve struggled with this for the past several years. However, about a year ago I found the solution that worked for me. It wasn’t easy. In fact it was extremely difficult. First, a little history: I’m a 36 year old man. I’ve been a fitness enthusiast all of my adult life. In my late 20’s I found it difficult to maintain the body fat levels that I enjoyed in my younger years. One year ago, after taking about a 3 month break from doing anything healthy, I decided to train for my first marathon. It was a way to get back on the fitness track. I allowed myself 6 months to prepare. I wanted to be 30 lbs lighter at the starting line. I knew exactly how to eat so I planned my meals—seven small meals every day. During the first month I found that there was one bad habit that I could not break. I would be physically satisfied every evening but for some bizarre reason I could not prevent myself from eating junk just before bedtime—and a lot of it. It was so very discouraging. I tried everything from planning my late night snacks with healthy, low calorie foods to eating my last full healthy meal of the day just before bed, to drinking half a gallon of water, to changing my activities in the evening, not watching TV but reading a book before bed, etc…nothing worked. Each failed attempt just destroyed my confidence. I knew the effects of consuming a lot of calories late in the day—no chance of burning body fat during sleep. At one point I finally recognized that it was a psychological barrier and that nothing that I did physically was going to stop it. I had to make a choice. I could recall what it felt like to be fit and lean from my earlier years. I also knew how good it felt to satisfy those late night cravings with all of the wonderfully unhealthy foods that are available. But at the end of the day, there was no food that tasted as good as being lean and healthy felt. At that point something just clicked. I made the decision to stop eating anything after 6 pm. Nothing other than water and multivitamins. That’s it. I just decided to stop. It wasn’t a half-hearted decision either. I knew exactly where I wanted to be and I knew exactly how to get there. I finally just told myself that I was going to do it. Regardless of how unpleasant the withdrawal, it was to become part of my life and nothing was going to stop me. I knew it would be painful at first and I accepted that. I realized that what I eat and when is one of the very few things in my life that I had absolute control over. Success in all other areas of my life was influenced by others, regardless of my own effort. But this one thing I could control. If I could be nothing else, I could be fit and I could be lean. I began weighing myself every morning at the same time—as soon as I got out of bed (with an empty bladder) on a digital scale accurate to 0.2 lbs. Other than water retention following those days that I had a bit more sodium, I lost weight every day. Really, everyday for 6 months. I charted my progress and felt so motivated every morning when I saw the consistent results that it actually became much easier to avoid the snacks that evening knowing that if I didn’t I’d be depriving myself the pleasure of seeing the scale reflect my progress the following morning. I knew that avoiding those late evening snacks would allow my body to burn fat through the night. I began at 198 lbs and had a marathon goal weight of 168 lbs. I ended up at 162 lbs at marathon time. The key for me was to focus on that one thing that was holding me back. That one action that was preventing me from reaching my goal. Painful as it was, I would not allow myself to eat after 6 pm. I did this consistently for 6 months. After the first week it got pretty easy. Sometimes the cravings were there, but when they came I just imagined myself as I wanted to be and the power of that vision was enough. After a couple weeks I was on autopilot. Not eating after 6pm had become my new habit. When I look back on it I realize that despite everything I tried, there was only one thing that worked. I made the decision to change that one habit as if my life depended on it.