Marius’ Mules

‘Lent’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word,
lencten meaning springtime,
lengthening days.

As winter stores run short,
the last tightening of the belt
before the earth sprouts again
and birds return,
we look to seed-time.

Buried seed rises, life resumes,
seed-time leads to regrowth,
as regrowth leads to harvest,
and God who gives the seasons,
turns seed-time celebrations
to the greater one of Easter.

We mark this time of self-denial,
the desert of temptation
and the journey to the cross,
with Jesus’ words:
If any would be my follower,
let him deny himself,
take up his cross and follow me.

Then they heard Him differently,
not as we do now, but then.
Now we sometimes change the words
to include men and women,
but His listeners thought of men.

They saw lines of Roman soldiers
with crosses on on their backs,
their nickname, ‘Marius’ Mules’
from the general who led them
and made them wear cross-shaped packs
weighing over sixty pounds.

The pack was called a sarcina,
a military marching backpack,
but in their slang it was furca,
the word for two pronged forks,
for crucifixion crosses and punishment yokes;
furcifer was slang for jailbird,
gallows material.
All a man needed was tied, or hanged,
on his furca,
his cross.

There is more.

Soldiers can’t be individuals,
self-seekers or go-getters,
but a troop with a leader;
holding together as one.
Legionaire, centurion,
cook, quartemaster,
introvert, extrovert
or barrack-room lawyer;
soldiers are part of a company,
one esprit-de-corps,
watching each other’s backs,
carrying their full packs,
denying personal wants
for the sake of the legion,
following the one in charge.

We know our King was crucified,
His hearers, then, just heard the call:

If any would be my follower,
let them deny themselves,
take up their cross and follow me.

What was Jesus saying to that first century crowd? Many were waiting for a Messiah, a warrior in Joshua’s mould, who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel and David’s throne. Here was a stirring speaker with Joshua’s Aramaic name, speaking in soldierly language, calling for followers. Was He speaking to them?

We read His words knowing He was crucified, and interpret them differently, but so would his first-century listeners just two or three years later. It is as though He was not talking to that crowd, not then, not there, but to that crowd as it would be when His work was done.

John (ch.6:15) described how, having heard Him speak, with their high expectations they tried to force Him to be their king. Instead they gained the Servant King who so loved the world that He came as His own Son so they might have eternal life.

We often only understand God’s words and actions after they are fulfilled.

The Language of religion (2)

In February last year I wrote on our use of ‘religious’ words in The Language of Religion. I wrote on much-loved words: I Hope …, I think…, I believe…, I trust…, I know… relating them to faith. In spite of  being apparently easy, well-known words,  we can use them without realising their depth of meaning and how they relate to one another.

This post, and others to follow, deal with words which cannot be described as much-loved: today: wrath & anger…  not easy words, neither easily understood nor comfortable. Later posts may not fit this category but I have chosen them because they involve words I once thought I knew so well they did not need explanation, and have since found I was wrong: forgiveness, justice, eternity…

There will be gaps (we still have not moved house, although it is drawing closer)

Wrath…
Anger…

For thousands of years
we have associated these words with God.
Their use has changed,
but echoes remain.

Wrath and anger are now synonyms,
words with the same meaning,
but anger shares no roots with wrath.

Words grow like trees from roots far back in time
branching as they grow.
Sometimes suckers rise, sharing roots,
or cross-pollinated seeds
send stems from the earth,
with new roots to a related tree.

Wrathstems from Old English,
Anglo-Saxon, Scandanavian words.
The roots of wrath involve turning,
particularly turning away;
wrath shares them with wreathe and writhe,
with twist and twine,
with wrist (a turning joint),
turning awry words
which wring,
and wreck,
and wreak wrong.

Angeralso has Scandanavian and Anglo-Saxon roots,
but in New Testament Greek the word is οργε (orgé)
from this root come anguish and grief,
and angina (a constricting, choking pain),
yet it was not translated as anger,
but wrath.

Anger carries emotions of grief and regret;
an anxious response to imposed grief.
We see God’s anguish as anger,
then interpret anger as wrath,
seeing ourselves as hated things
because of our failings.
In this we increase our grief,
and His own.

God’s wrath is not a twisted,
writhing, turning away from a hated thing.
Wrath and anger are as different from one another
as over-strict, vicious punishment of a childs’s wrong…
turning the child away… turning away from the child…
is from the true, grieving response of a loving parent.

The True Parent grieves,
but the True Parent has no wrath.
The True Parent’s grief and regret and correction
is not wrath.
If it is anger, it is compassionate anger.

Two months before I wrote The Language of Religion I posted  How we Love Children which compares our Father’s love for us with parent’s love for children. Everything we feel and hope for is contained in our Father’s love.

Sue’s Birthday Bunnies

Dedicated to my friends Dick & Sue.

For her birthday little Sue
was given by her Daddy two
little bunnies in a hutch.
She said, ‘I love them! Oh so much!’
She loved them, and they loved Sue,
And they loved each other too.

Bunnies did what bunnies do,
so what a great surprise had Sue
when she peeped inside their door:
her two bunnies now were four.

‘Daddy come! Oh Daddy quick!
(Daddy by the way was Dick)
One and one have just made four!’
Daddy came and Daddy saw
that the present he’d supplied
had gone forth and multiplied.

‘Oh no!’ he said, ‘I gave you two.
Pretty soon we’ll have a zoo!
There first were two, and now two more,
It’s two and two that becomes four.’

Later talking to his neighbour
Dick said, ‘How I had to labour!
‘Sue may be bright and pretty quick,
but no good at arithmetic!’

The neighbour said,
‘Now don’t you fuss,
although I only drive a bus
I study speed and things like that
when in my driver’s seat I’m sat.
A speed of just two miles an hour
If doubled needs a bit more power.
But, and this is hard to scan,
I’ll try and do it if I can,
two miles an hour plus two again,
Is not four m.p.h.’

‘Explain!’

‘The actual sum, as I have found,
Is two miles per hour, plus two miles more
less two divided by the speed of light in miles per hour.
This argument you can’t resist.
I am a Quantum Physicist
not a poet.’

‘I thought you drove a bus!’

Dick’s other neighbour, on his way,
Stopped to pass the time of day.
‘Math and physics show us we
really need philosophy.
One and two and three and four
mean nothing if not joined to more.
They are shorthand, abstract terms,
to count the stars and sticks, and worms.’

‘And bunnies!’ spoke up little Sue.
We really must give her her due.
She knows that numbers are a tool
not bound to any other rule
than Einstein’s relativity
and Heisenberg’s uncertainty.
Schrodinger’s unhappy cat
would surely say, ‘Amen.’ to that.

Rivers of Memory (1)

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

There are personal and race memories: the past, woven into the present in language, in relationships, and in stories. Words and names have roots in history. Etymology, the study of the origins of words, can throw light on the history of humanity. With what we know already, with archeology, palentology, and old stories that predate writing, we can get a glimmer, a tiny vision, of our past.

There were once four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

Pishon

‘A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon…’ Genesis 2: 10,11

In 1924 in the southern heart of Africa, limestone quarrymen in Taung in the Kalahari, found the skull of a female, early pre-human child, who lived and died there two and a half million years ago. Taung is some fifty miles from the African township of Bethlehem, but there was no Bethlehem then, no Taung, no Kalahari. We might not recognise the humanity in her family group with modern eyes, but it was there; tenacious, adaptable. They had survived for a million years and spread throughout Africa in the tropical rainforest through valleys and plains, following the provider of fertility: water. Today we have given these waterways names: the Orange River, the Limpopo, the Save, the Zambezi, and its tributary the Shire into which Lake Nyasa empties, falling, some fifty miles downstream, over the Kholombidzo Falls to the coast. As well as these great rivers there are lakes like seas. Lakes we call Tanganika, Rukwa, Jivu, Rwanda, Mobutu Kyoga, Turkana and many others. Greatest of all is Lake Victoria.

Somewhere here, in what is still among the most densely populated regions of Africa, early humans found their voice, language. We have few clues to the nature of their early speech: just a collection of root sounds common to later tongues, but home must have a name. Crows are said to have two main calls: kia! which signifies returning to their roost, and the deeper kaa! which signifies flying away from the roost to feed. These two cries can be heard in competition in any flock. They are voting. Whichever cry predominates determines the action of the flock.

One of the early root sounds in human language is pi, associated with drinking. Perhaps it came from the lapping sound. Another is a group of sounds all associated with water and beginning with s such as Spu: spit, sru: flow or stream and snu: to bathe, swim, float or flow. These sounds are not a language, they are roots from which language springs. Just possibly they had two sounds that joined meant home: pi-snu (drink-flow) or Pishon.

… the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’

                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

The Language of Religion

            The Language of Religion: Thought – Belief – Trust – Knowledge – Faith – Hope

I Hope …, I think…, I believe…, I trust…, I know…, have a definite order but the position of faith is less obvious. Faith is harder to place and often confused with the others.

Thought can be used as a noun from the past form of the verb think, meaning a conscious adjustment or association in the brain, or as a verb referring to something, as in I thought it was the best thing to do or I think it will rain today. In this way it is used as holding something to be possible rather than certain. There is a tendency to mistake it for ‘belief’ but I think God exists is weaker than I believe God exists.

Belief (be-lief = hold-dear) is often said to mean faith but one person may believe a thing and have faith in it, while another believes the same thing but has no faith in it. You can believe a man is a plumber but have no faith in him or trust him to do your plumbing.

Knowledge (gnosis, allied to constant – con – ken – can – canny) is often said to be the enemy of faith, as though having evidence for something leaves no room for faith. And yet it is possible to say, ‘I can prove that I am married but my faith in my marriage, or marriage in general, does not depend on that.’ One can even say, ‘I know (from whatever evidence one accepts) that there is a God but I have no faith in Him.’

Trust (allied to truth – troth) is the basis of most of our dealings in life: family, business, or pleasure. We may feel we need to be protected by rules, and take care to watch our backs, but we really live our lives on a basis of trust. We cannot do otherwise, yet in association with religion, trust is often replaced disparagingly by blind faith, but faith is then being used wrongly. There is no need to use trust for secular life and blind faith for religion. It would cause less misunderstanding if trust was used for both.

Trust is not the same as faith although they are allied. Trust is something we can both have and do. Faith is something we can have but not something we do. Trust is sometimes used instead of hope, ‘I trust the weather will be good enough for a picnic’ but there is an unspoken because – it implies hope with an underlying motive.

Hope has always been there (almost unchanged from Anglo-Saxon times hopa) – ask Pandora. Sadly the confusion with trust above can be misleading.

Faith (fideo | fidelity) Alone of these words faith cannot be made a verb. We can say I think, I believe, I know, I trust and I hope, but we can only have faith. It is a possession, something to be gained. It is often used to mean belief but you can believe something but have no faith in it. When you do or follow something faithfully, you do so to the letter. Faith is an absolute. Its absence is a real absence.

I may hope God exists, think God exists, believe, even know God exists, and still have no faith in him. I may have faith in God but not trust Him (because I cannot tame Him!) but if I have faith in God then the others become redundant. Faith has no place in the order of these words. It is absolute, over-riding them all.

See also The Language of religion (2)

The Lord’s Prayer

I have long been fascinated by the challenge of translating poetry from other languages into English. Often when this is done the poetic meter is lost, and with it much of its feeling and emotion. Jesus spoke Aramaic but his sayings were translated into the Greek in common use at the time. Translated back into first century Aramaic it is often found to have been memorable poetry.

What follows is my best attempt at keeping both the meter and the rhyme of the Aramaic Lord’s prayer without losing the meaning. The actual rhyme sounds are different – for example the ‘dear’, ‘here’ and ‘revered’ rhymes were ‘…mak’, ‘…thek’ and ‘…nek’ in the original. The layout is my own, to show how it flows.

Father of heaven
may your name be held dear,
your kingdom come here,
your will be revered,
as in your heaven
so in Earth.

And let us plead
for enough bread
for our day’s need.

Forgive all we owe,
as we forgive those,
those debtors of ours.

From testing
keep us;
from evil
protect us.

The final words acknowledging the eternal kingdom, power and glory of God are probably a later addition, lacking the Aramaic feel and rhymes.

The Language of the Universe?

In the beginning was the Word?

Many say the language of the universe is mathematics, but the language of mathematics is not necessarily numbers. Numbers are a shorthand for words. In quantum mechanics collapsed waveforms is the term for a relationship between particles and their waveforms, in which particles, or indeed any combination of particles (atoms, molecules, chemical and organic compounds, even you) are seen as the focus or point of action of the energy waves involved. In the same way numbers and equations are like the collapsed waveforms of the huge quantity of words that might otherwise be needed to describe them. It is a good analogy. For many mathematical concepts the number of words would be as infinite as the cosmic extent of particle waveforms.

Pi (π), the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, is one such mathematical concept. Written as a decimal it extends to an infinite number of decimal places, of which the first thirty two are as below:

3.14159265358979323846264338327950…

Should you have any need to remember this, some time ago I came across a mnemonic for the first dozen or so places. I changed and extended it to thirty-two before getting bored. The number of letters in each word is the number at each decimal place.

Now –
I sing a scale excelling,
in mystic voice and magic spelling,
sublimest strains incarnate.

Art in its measures will reveal
an angel’s song for the carousel,
and in eternal harmonies dwell,
O!

Feel free to add more of your own.

The idea of numbers being a shorthand for words is not a difficult concept, after all without words how could we explain what numbers are to children? But there may be more to them than that. Pi is far more than the simple relationship of a circle to its diameter.

Pi

Are numbers and equations
the collapsed waveforms of words?
And is pi’s definition
the circling of the birds
round and wide above the hills?
or the volume of a drop of water from the rills
rolling down to plop into shining highland ghylls?

Then the circle of the sphere
and the rolling of a tear
when a sobbing child cries, ‘Why!’
and the Earth around the Sun in perihelion,
and the wide, wide width of tears is pi.

The quick birds’ wheeling cry,
and the crying tears of pain,
and the earth around the sun,
and the round drops in the rain,
and the signs of endless sky,
the music of the spheres,
and the circle of the years,
tell us why.

Birds circling round their prey
know the distance from their nest,
and swooping down from sky,
sharp claw and shining eye,
returning straight and high,
the circle and the swoop,
the short returning loop,
and the gather of the storm
round the centre still at rest
say more to you and I
than the radius and the circle
that are pi.