Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Arresting Parallel

Take a look at this photo taken in the museum at Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games.  It's a statue preserved beautifully--featuring Hermes carrying the infant Dionysius to safety.
Does it remind you of a similar trope or theme in Christian legend?  What are the parallels you see?

Tomorrow morning we leave Greece and return home.  I will be taking 2 courses next week at Yale Divinity School.  We are looking forward to being in our own country again, but we highly recommend that anyone considering a European vacation go to Greece.  The people are amazingly hospitable!  The food is beyond compare.  We've had such a great time here, and our hearts go out to the people of Greece who are suffering so much right now.  Go to Greece!  Or start buying more Greek products...the people are so worthy of help.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Parallel Evolution--or not?

Our group experience of the Cyclades Islands and Athens ended last night.  This morning we were on a plane back to Athens--it only took 45 minutes.  Barry and I rented a car and took off on the roads to Delphi, site of the famous Oracle of Delphi.  The Oracle was the person (Pythia) who uttered ecstatically when giving forth the words of the god Apollo.  Priests stood nearby to "translate" the utterances into language the people could understand.

Delphi (DELL-fee) is located about an hour or two to the west of Athens, in central Greece.  To get there we had to drive on the equivalent of an interstate highway and a state highway.  Both roads were in fine shape, and they were not at all crowded--perhaps because of the general depression that the country is experiencing now with very difficult sanctions imposed by the EU.

Delphi is located in a spectacular setting.  Mount Parnassus towers above it.  Other mountains enclose it, and there is a valley that pours out eastward so that the temple site gets first morning light.
We had a guide to take us through the museum there and the archaeological site itself--including the remains of the Temple of Apollo.

One thing hit me so strongly today:  the similarity of various elements in the Ancient Greek religion and our religion today (or the religion of the Hebrew people that we see practiced in the OT).  Here are some of the similarities that jumped out today:

  • Snakes!  In Delphi and in the OT snakes were used as symbols of healing.  In Greek and Ancient Near Eastern creation myths snakes figure prominently.  
  • Tithing.  10% was given in both OT, Ancient Greece and even today as thank offerings to the Divine.
  • Incense.  It was used back in Ancient Greece in worship to help cover over body smells.  Same for Rome.  It entered Christian worship as a carry over from Roman practice.  But in the OT incense also symbolized prayer.  That's why we use it today--the body smells aren't bad anymore!
  • Speaking in "tongues" or ecstatic utterance.  This one really intrigued me.  The Oracle at Delphi spoke forth nonsense syllables, under the influence of what may have been hallucinogens present in the vapor and volcanic gases coming forth out of the fissure under the Temple of Apollo.  A priest interpreted the utterance.  Now, in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he warns the people of Corinth not to take pride that they can pray in ecstatic utterances--what he calls praying in tongues.  He tells them that the tongues are meaningless unless there's someone there to interpret, so that the Body gathered can be edified.  I was so struck by the huge possibility that the church in Corinth could have been influenced by the Oracle at Delphi--perhaps this was the source of their puffed up pride in the ability to pray in this way:  I'm just as good as that Oracle is!   I'd never considered that possibility---but it seems so likely at this point.  That will be something to google, for sure.
Here are some photos from today:
1.  Delphi, looking out to the east.  The columns at left are from the Temple of Apollo.
2.  An incense burner found at the site.  
3.  Part of a statue of Apollo found there in excavations. It was made of ivory (deteriorated and discolored with age--but a sign of extensive trade) and gold leaf.  It is so beautiful.  There's even detail around the eyes--eyelashes...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


All over these Cyclades Islands there are many, many chapels.  The small ones are maintained by families and once a year a priest comes to lead the Divine Liturgy (Mass or Holy Eucharist).  There are also 2 monasteries with their own chapels.  Yesterday we hiked about 6 or 7 miles and about 1000 vertical feet to the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian.  This is the John who wrote the Book of Revelation from the island of Patmos, which is visible from the monastery on Amorgos.

I have been lighting candles in these chapels as a symbol of my prayers for the parish.  Sometimes I pray for individuals and sometimes for the parish as a whole--for health and for guidance through the challenges.

Yesterday at the Monastery of St. John the Theologian we met a person who lived there as a caretaker.  She is on the pathway to becoming an Orthodox nun.  And she blew me away with her kindness, generosity, graciousness, and hospitality.  She lives up there all alone--a hermit.  And when people come up to the monastery to visit the buildings (the monastery no longer has monks), she accompanies them into the chapel.  She offered us shots of Raki (liquor brewed in Greece that's a sign of welcome--you down a shot of it as your symbol of receiving the hospitality).  She offered us the treats called "Turkish delight" -- jellies with powdered sugar coating.  She was so very kind and understanding, ushering three of us women to the latrine she uses.  She poured out herself to us.

Saint Benedict always told his monks to treat every visitor as if he or she was Christ.  And this is how we were treated by this beautiful nun-in-the-making.  As we were leaving I told my hiking partner Katy that this woman was spiritually incandescent--and she agreed wholeheartedly.  Would that each of us could be like that!

The pictures:
1.  Candles symbolizing prayers in the monastery chapel
2.  The front of the church--behind the curtain is where the sacred mysteries take place; only the priest is there.  The people stand outside.  On the left, the icon of the Theotokos, Mary, Mother of God.  On left, the icon of Christ Pantocrator, ruler of the Cosmos.
3.  Our hostess at the Monastery
4.  One of the many cats on this island.  I love this photo.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Amorgos

Barry and I arrived yesterday via a 5-hour ferry ride to Amorgos, the easternmost island of the Cyclades (sih KLAH duss) group in the Aegean Sea.  This is a gorgeous place, not overrun by tourists, still beautiful and largely unspoiled.  We went for a 4 to 5 hour hike from the top of a ridge down  to a town on the sea, and around to an inn for lunch and a swim.  Below, some pictures:
1.  Some of our group coming down on one of the donkey paths we hike along
2.  One of the island's donkeys.  They are still commercially viable due to lack of many roads into the interior
3.  A view across the island
4.  Barry and I at lunch break.  Maybe a good one for a Christmas card.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sensing the Sacred

We've spent many minutes here sampling holy spaces.  Along hiking trails there have been small chapels, belonging to individual families, containing icons and other reminders of the Presence.  We visited and prayed in the shrine in Greece that's a magnet for the faithful--the church of the Virgin Mary in Tinos.  Below, a fragment of a fresco in the portico leading to the church compound.

The church sits at the top of a very long hill and on the side of the road that leads to it there's a narrow strip of carpet.  Pilgrims go to the church on their hands and knees.  You can actually buy knee and hand pads at local shops there.

As the story goes the Virgin appeared to a local woman in 1823 several times, telling her to find the lost icon on the hilltop.  The bishop approved the apparition and work began to find the lost icon of the virgin and child.  Finally it was found, split in two and damaged by fire.  Then the church was built to house the icon and over many years it became the site of pilgrimage.  In the photo below there's the holy icon of the Virgin, covered over with layers of jewels donated by pilgrims.

Have you ever noticed that certain places actually feel holy?  I have no idea why this is.  Perhaps there's a sense there that prayers over the years "live" in that space?  Perhaps it's something new-agey like convergence of meridians or something like that???  (Actually I prefer the first explanation by a mile!).  People have told me that our church feels holy, that they can feel the prayers over the centuries that have shaped the community.  I think there's something to that.

Touch our holy place and add your prayers.  Thanksgivings, petitions, times of rest with God.  All these are very good prayer.

For that matter maybe it's your own space at home where you usually pray that feels holy.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit imbue everything we do and every place we pray with divinity.  Happy Trinity Sunday!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Delos, birthplace of Artemis and Apollo

This afternoon we visited the island of Delos, which is where the Greek myths tell you that the twin children of Zeus, Apollo the Sun God and Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, were born.  The island is in the middle of the Cyclades and held a sacred connotation ever since about 3000 BC.  It's interesting that at that time it was pre-Abraham (I think Abraham lived around 2000 BC or so, although that's hard to know for sure).  But now, after successive civilizations occupied Delos and built upon earlier ruins, the entire island is an archaeological museum.  Very, very interesting, and the ruins there tell of times when cultures mixed.  There are artifacts and inspirations from India.  There was a cache of coins found from over 150 different ancient places.  It was a hub of trade, culture and worship.  So here are some famous remains in Delos--first, the lions given as a gift from the island of Naxos in the Cyclades, and second a floor mosaic in the house of a rich person.  Lions in those days lived in the ancient near East--not in the land now called Greece or in the islands.  We have references to lions in the OT--Samson wrestled with and killed one over a cache of honey (Book of Judges).  Jesus is sometimes called the Lion of Judah.  This is more evidence of the cultural crossroads that was Delos.

Now, about this mosaic.  See the spiral pattern that encircles doubly the center designs?  That's called a double spiral.  It's a symbol of everlasting life for the Greeks--you can keep on tracing that spiral, and the pattern never ends.  It's very similar to the spirals you see today in the art that often expresses spirituality.  Some things never change.


The Cycladic island of Mykonos is one of the most developed for the tourist trade.  When we were there this morning there were two giant cruise ships in port, and that made for some crowding in town.  The town is beautiful, though.  Here is an old windmill (they unfurl the sails when the wind is right) and an Orthodox Church dome juxtaposed with the Greek flag.  The last photo here is a meditative one, taken when I had a few minutes of quiet in an Orthodox chapel right on the Main Street that leads to the pier.  In order to get to Mykonos we took a high speed ferry from Tinos, then a "sea-bus" from the pier to the town.  It was a 6-ferry day, as we also sailed to the afternoon's destination--see next entry.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Now for the "new" entry about worship...

Today (Tuesday) we took our first hike, about 3 hours' worth, up to the center of the island Tinos.  Beth, I thought of you...  The island is lovely, the Aegean water a Caribbean blue, and the houses whitewashed and gorgeous.  See the photo below!

On our hike we stopped into one of the many chapels that dot the countryside here.  It was an Orthodox chapel; there are also numerous Roman chapels here, too--a remnant from when the Jesuits had a foothold here in the Cyclades and tried to convert everyone to Rome's observance.  It wasn't entirely successful...

First, here is a photo of the Orthodox chapel.  We see the Theotokos (Virgin and child--Mary, the God-bearer) outside the entrance; next, a stylized Chi-Rho symbol outside a Catholic chapel; next, a street in the town where we had lunch; and finally the view of the town in which we are staying.  BTW the chi-rho is a symbol made of the first 2 letters of Christ in the Greek.  And extra points go to Barry for answering what the Filioque clause was in the Nicene Creed (the Roman version we say each Sunday says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son--Filioque means "and from the Son."  The Orthodox interpretation says the Spirit proceeds only from the Father.  That is one of those issues that it will be great to have cleared up one day when we go across that veil.  That is, if it even matters...

What a day.  And what food we are having.  The salads are amazing--dressed only with fine olive oil.  Serve with a hunk of feta and it's as good as it gets.

Worship, Old and New

Yesterday was our first full day with this tour.  Our group of 13 travelers was matched up with a lovely young woman from Athens to guide us up to the Akropolis.  I was struck by that familiar feeling of awe and wonder when something we knew about and even learned about was made real in the seeing and witness of the body on the spot.  The Parthenon, Erichtheon, and the entrance gate towered over us all and took our breath away.  Maybe it will be a little like that when we come into the full presence of Jesus in the next chapter of our lives?  Only better!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Athens--sprawling out to the Akropolis and on to the sea

The size of this city is amazing.  We have the tired feet to prove it.

Comfort in Catholicity

Lots of times I get asked why we aver our belief in the one, holy, CATHOLIC, and apostolic church.  The answer lies in the meaning of the word itself.  "Catholic" means "universal" -- the same everywhere.  We dipped into that truth about the church this morning, celebrating Pentecost at St. Paul's Church in Athens which labels itself Anglican/Episcopal.

Everyone was very friendly and welcoming -- as it should be.  Coffee hour was held outside afterward and we had a couple really good conversations with a couple of gentlemen --  both British expats.   But the real treat for me was the worship.

It was utterly familiar, yet had some different accents.  They had a few wonderful and appropriate additions to the liturgy in light of the fact that we were celebrating the falling of the spirit on the apostles in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem.  Athens can say the same thing.  I couldn't help but hear in my mind, as we were hearing with our ears the list of all the peoples who saw the apostles speaking in each one's own language, a modern version.  Instead of "Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Cappadocia . . ." I was hearing "Greeks, Brits, Americans, Frenchmen, Syrians, Liberians, Kenyans, Afghanis . . ., all hearing the Word afresh in their own languages.    The setting was wonderful for such a re-hearing.  And a terrific reminder that Scripture is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword...

The city of Athens is huge and sprawling.  Apparently half the country's population lives here.  There are many sections that are dirty and infrastructure is lacking--for instance the sidewalks are a mess, broken, uneven, neglected.  Given the incredible stresses on the Greek economy right now, and the austerity measures imposed by the EU, things are really stretched.  Apparently there are hundreds of thousands who need to avail themselves of feeding programs.  Add to this the fact that there is a huge stress on things from the volume of refugee need...this place is stretched.  Perhaps even in an economic depression.

I'm glad we can add just a little to the economy here.  They really need tourists here more than ever.

Our guided program starts this evening-in about a half hour.  Tomorrow we see the Parthenon and the Akropolis Museum, then leave for one of the islands--Tinos--a traditional site of Greek Orthodox pilgrimage.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Not too ineffable but a whole lot of fun--for Meredith

Hi Meredith, I thought you might get a kick out of this one...a storefront in Lyme Regis.  Thanks to Roy and Frances for the tip to visit Lyme Regis!

The Desire to Reunite--take 2

Nature mysticism--sensing God or the Divine or the Ineffable through nature--is as old as the human soul, apparently.  So here's one magnificent place we walked today--the destination is the natural sea arch to the east of Weymouth.

This was spectacular enough, but on the way back we encountered this magnificent site--which in itself was quite the invitation to worship.

The desire to reunite

Yesterday we began our short stay in England to adjust to European time and decompress.  We experienced the usual issues with fatigue from jet lag, but nonetheless have settled in nicely.  We are in Dorset, near the coast of England.  We're in the little town of Chickerell, west of Weymouth.

We drove past Stonehenge--we were there first about 28 years ago, when a person could actually walk between the stones and touch them.  Now it's all roped off...So here's a look from the road; not too bad a picture considering we were going about 50 miles an hour... Then we stopped at Salisbury Cathedral--beautiful, majestic, constantly repaired.  When we were first here those years ago the scaffolding was by the west doors--the main entrance.  Now it's around the apse in the east.  I guess that's progress.

Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral--two manifestations of the human desire to retouch our roots--where we came from--that divine DNA or pattern in whose image we were made, according to Genesis 1.  This drive pushes us into our own souls and up to the heavens--or at least to the moon at this point.  It pushes our days and gives them meaning.  Purpose.

Stonehenge from a good deal away, and going past at 50 mph.
Below, the interior of Salisbury Cathedral, done in the high Gothic style.  Magnificent.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

On the Eve of the Leave, Thursday, May 5, 2016

It's been only 5 years since last sabbatical but it feels like a very long time.  Winding down toward leaving I'm reminded how complex the work is in a full time parish position.  And I know it will be a similar feeling at the return time in August.  The goal is to relax enough to enable good and deep learning in this upcoming sabbatical.  It's amazing how stress interferes with that!

We are looking forward to hiking in Greece to monastery destinations and ancient ruins.  I'm especially looking forward to being at Yale again for 2 courses for pastors:  Leading God's People (based on the book by the same name, a study in how the Church Fathers and Mothers inform our sense of being pastors) and a class that takes us behind the scenes at the Yale museums and various book collections to see ancient artifacts that relate to life in Biblical times.  I am hoping for some practical knowledge to inform preaching.

But for now the parish work continues toward Sunday--Mothers' Day, the baptism of a new, beautiful toddler, and a celebration of our Confirmands.  Also included will be the very bittersweet time of saying goodbye to a parish couple who have been wonderful members.  And life goes on...sadly sometimes.

So here's  a photo that reminds me of the Genesis account of the Spirit moving over the chaos of the deep and bringing order.  It's Barry's stuff on the bed in the guest room.  Good thing there are no guests right now!  And like the bringing of order from chaos biblically, I know there will be order emerge from this particular chaos, too.  And it will all fit into a duffel bag.