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Guest Post: Impressions of Easter 2017, Rural Russia

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

[ by Mark Osiecki — posted by Charles Cameron ]
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I found this semi-private post by my friend Mark Osiecki quite wonderfully written, insightful as to mood in rural Russia, and deeply moving.

In my mind, the arches formed where religion and science meet are among the loftiest in the “hundred gated cathedral of kind” that Hermann Hesse wrote of in his novel Magister Ludi, aka The Glass Bead Game, and this post, with its arch between engineering and eucharist, strikes me as a fine example of the possibilities. With Mark’s permission, I’m reposting it here.

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Feodor and I.

Nearly identical in age, we arrived essentially simultaneously into this existence, but within parallel universes…his The Cold War Soviet, mine The Cold War United States. But we laboured professionally within a common belief system…his sect, nuclear physics and reactor-powered plants, mine mechanical engineering and heavy industrial process. Despite our governments’ endeavoring to differentiate their brands of benevolent service to us, we moved in remarkably similar worlds.

The Engineering, after all, is united in its own universal mysticism.

Therein reside incantations…rich in their use of sigmas, alphas, rhos, thetas… symbology universally recognized by all trained congregants. On our respective sides of this planet, we would re-contrive those classical formulae with ritualistic rigor, condense the results into icon-like drawings and present them to sage masters who would ask us “Will this work? Can persons walk under or past this without peril? Is this for the greater good?” We were trained to curtly answer “yes”, of course, confident in our interpretation of The Commandments as bestowed by a Euclid, a Newton, an Euler, a Moore, an Ohm perhaps. Sadly, though, we plied this belief system with the knowledge that it had all too often been deployed not in fact for the greater good but rather to release the great unseen forces hidden within those incantations into enormous, physically destructive effects, eventually bringing grievous harm and agonizing death to many.

But we, we rationalized, incantated for some greater utility. After all, the greater people somehow desired and benefited from the results of our labours. And thus, we and those consuming the products of our work were able to sense no complicity in the release of such destruction.

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The Supreme Soviet, one day, stopped.

The Engineering continued despite that passage, but The Orthodoxy – a disallowed belief system – somehow immediately re-emerged adjacent to The Engineering despite the Soviet’s travails over many generations to erase all sentimentality for it. One day soon thereafter, it occurred to Feodor that his inclination towards incantation and application of Commandments could be deployed via The Orthodoxy, also towards the greater good. Thus, he abruptly refocused his faith towards a new set of Unseeable Phenomena, got educated in it, and got to work.

So now, this Easter’s eve in a tiny rural chapel bounded only by hovels and two cemeteries, my friend Feodor is working. It’s 3:30am on what began as a blustery Saturday night, and we are gathered in the middle of nowhere. Two hundred or so consumers of his work have assembled before him in a space where a certificate next to the front door declares its legal capacity of 60. Half of the congregants – people of my generation or older – had come to this belief system after the collapse of the Supreme Soviet un-disallowed it. The rest, mostly younger, were born into it. Now, we here are compressed together, so tightly that we are slightly deforming each other. Every time the person in back of me waves her right arm in signing The Cross – once every thirty seconds or so over several hours – she caresses that image onto my back. My pelvis is in warm, intimate contact with the back of the person in front of me. Were the man next to me attempt to reach in his pocket, I would feel every nuance of that movement, as though his wriggling fingers were en route to one of mine.

Group confessions were jointly said earlier this evening, but this compacted mass of believers is not static. Folks come and go. Most will stay for the entire five-hour fete, with an overflow crowd cresting just about now. A cantor announces that if anyone missed the earlier confession, they may step forward and Feodor will somehow work them in during the balance of the service. If you have ever studied fluid dynamics and observed images or videos of how temperature difference diffuses through a dense medium, you would recognize a similar visual phenomenon here. The contrite shimmy their way forward but you don’t actually see them. Rather, you see the reactions of those already-confessed souls parting to make way for them…a glance over a shoulder, a twist of a torso, a fluttering open of normally closed eyes.

The service, despite its playing out in a language I struggle to grasp, is at least structurally familiar to me. Readings from testaments are performed, a consecration is rendered, praises are sung. A cleansing remorse is conveyed and then sensed as accepted. I take refuge in that familiarity. As the night passes to morning, a subtle crescendo of hopefulness builds within… this certain, family-given sense of being, communicated via a belief couched in the unbelievable.

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Thanks you, Mark.

Jerusalem — the joy, the limitation, the fire

Monday, April 17th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — winding up with the Easter fire at Holy Sepulchre ]
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I don’t know which order to post these first two tweets in, but if there’s truth to Dr Cole‘s tweet, it does set a limit to the good news in Avi Mayer‘s. I’ll just spin them a few times like a coin, then move on to the heart of the matter.

The world, as Gerard Manley Hopkins suggests, is intrinsically dappled. And:

Cherry blossom season 01

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — scitech & artpo, two ways of seeing ]
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It is cherry blossom season in Japan:

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The upper panel image above is from an Economist blog, the lower from a Hiroshige print.

From the Economist piece, timeless:

HANAMI, the Japanese custom of contemplating the impermanence of life by gazing at the fleeting beauty of blossoming flowers, goes back a long way. “The Tale of Genji”, a tenth-century masterpiece that is perhaps the world’s first novel, devotes a chapter to the cherry-blossom festival staged in the emperor’s great hall. Diarists have keenly chronicled the comings and goings of cherry blossoms for centuries—records from Kyoto, the old capital, date back 1,200 years. This precious, ancient data set reveals a disturbing trend: in recent decades, the blossoms have emerged much sooner than they once did.

and (continuing) in our own time:

This precious, ancient data set reveals a disturbing trend: in recent decades, the blossoms have emerged much sooner than they once did.

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Header:

Japan’s cherry blossoms are emerging increasingly early


Subhead:

Experts think climate change is to blame

Early: unh-uh. Fleeting: yes.

Boy general, boy bishop

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — children raised to high office, not a bad idea ]
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The Make-A-Wish Foundation, with the help of Camp Pendleton, recently treated a young boy suffering from retinoblastoma – “a rare cancer of the eye” — to a day of Marine exercises. Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese temporarily assigned him the rank of general.

Which reminds me..

Hereford Cathedral’s account of the ceremony of the making of a boy bishop gives us a clue to the theology behind that medieval ceremony, recently revived:

This annual ceremony is a successor to a service that developed sometime in the thirteenth century. The climax of the ceremony takes place during the singing of the canticle Magnificat. As the choir sings the words He hath put down the mighty from their seat, the Boy Bishop displaces the Bishop of Hereford from his episcopal chair. This dramatic moment is charged with spiritual meaning.

An equally dramatic moment is recorded in the Gospels, when our Lord was asked by his disciples, who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? Much to their surprise Jesus gave them a memorable lesson, which still haunts the human imagination. Jesus took a little child ‘and set him in the midst of them’ (Matthew XVIII, 2). Deep in Christianity there has always been the teaching that children are nothing less than the measure of our humanity, and that no one will enter the kingdom of God ahead of them. This child-centred teaching about membership of God’s kingdom always comes as an affront to adult pride and invites grown-ups to think new thoughts and adopt new perspectives. Very appropriately, in one of the few surviving sermons preached by a Boy Bishop during the middle ages, the choice of text was ‘Except you will be converted, and made like unto little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’

Perhaps because I’m looking for the tauromachia

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Syria echoes Guernica ]
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This, from JM Berger today, offers a glimpse of Syria that is neither war, nor peace, if I might put it this way, but war longing for peace:

Irresistibly, it reminds me of this:

Isn’t that a bull’s head in cloth, hanging right above the shoulder of the leaping boy in the Syrian image — and isn’t that alnmost exactly Picasso’s swooping white head, again in cloth, just to the right of it? The illusion of their similarity is enhanced by the aspect ratio of the Twitter image from Syria, which cuts off a stretch of green in the original photo, just below the image as you see it here..

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But it may be I’m seeing this because the bullfight and tauromachia have been on my mind recently — mythic combats of man pitted agains one of his worthiest opponents. There’s an archaic resonance there that’s inmportant in some way, but the actual killing of the bull, blood in the sand, horrifies me, the animal descending from grandeur to humiliation, its bowed head propped on one horn as it awaits finality — terrible.

And I was accordingly happy to recall the less violent version of the sport, still pitting man’s skill against adversary — in the bull-leaping of Knossos:

and its latter-day practice, shown here at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona:

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Taurus:

taup
This image comes from the fabulous Constellations of Words site.


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