Who Knew?

Who Knew?

Advent 2


Every writer at some point wonders, Will anyone ever read this?”  November is National Novel Writing Month in the United States although it is an international event now.  Known by the acronym NaNoWriMo, its purpose is to beat the odds and help aspiring writers get busy writing the next great novel.  Local groups meet to encourage each other as do online bulletin boards and guest critiquing of posted works.  Begun in 1999, the percentage of those who attempt to write their novel has steadily grown while the number actually completing the suggested fifty thousand words has declined.


The probability factor of those who want to write a novel compared to those who complete the fifty thousand benchmark of NaNoWriMo is not surprising once one considers just exactly what probability is and its impact on our lives.  Urban slang has reduced the root word “probably” to “prolly” but the meaning is still the same – “almost certainly”.  The desire to write a great piece of work is common to most people, probably because fame is a well-known dream of the masses.  Whether it is “prolly” to you or not, at some point you may have thought you had a great story.  You “probably” did or do.  The “probability” of you writing it, though, is minimal at best.


This series is about the concept of grace and you might be asking why we are talking about writing a novel and probability when we should be discussing grace.  The reason is simple.  The probability of you receiving and recognizing grace today is about the same as those who will complete their writing dream for NaNoWriMo.  In 2012 that number was eleven percent.  As most people join the novel writing movement, the number who will be successful declines, due to the laws of probability.  The same might be said of those receiving and recognizing grace.


Probability is usually discussed from four different perspectives – Classical, Empirical, Subjective, and Axiomatic.  There are four weeks in Advent and each week we will approach the concept of grace from one of these perspectives.  You may be wondering about the connection between grace, a concept generally thought of in theological terms, and probability, a concept holding a great position in the field of mathematics.


The Classical approach to probability is really rather simple and is usually introduced to most of us in formal education.  The classical example concerns the rolling of a pair of dice.  As long as the dice are not weighted or otherwise altered, such an activity is considered fair or unbiased.   There are six possible numbers that could come up (“outcomes”), and, because the dice have not been altered so as to enable someone to cheat the process, each one is equally likely to occur. This means that there are six possible outcomes and each one of the six numbers has an equal chance of appearing.  So we say each of these outcomes has probability 1/6.  Since the event “an odd number comes up” consists of exactly three of these basic outcomes – there being three odd numbers and three even ones, we say the probability of “odd” is 3/6, or 1/2. 


The classical perspective has the advantage that it is applicable and easily understood for many situations. It is not perfect, though, as the University of Texas math webpage explains.  “However, [the Classical perspective] is limited, since many situations do not have finitely many equally likely outcomes. Tossing a weighted die is an example where we have finitely many outcomes, but they are not equally likely. Studying people’s incomes over time would be a situation where we need to consider infinitely many possible outcomes, since there is no way to say what a maximum possible income would be, especially if we are interested in the future.”


A Classical approach to grace is similarly flawed since the amount of compassion and consideration given to another is often based upon that which we ourselves have most recently received.  More on that later this week but do consider this.  If you are having a bad day, how gracious are you when someone else’s bad day infringes upon yours?


The aspiring writers who complete their writings are those who have been encouraged and mentored.  After seventeen years, NaNoWriMo has proven the advantage of having a support system.  The tribe a writer gathers around him/her often determines their probability of success.  This is true for most endeavors, not just writing.


“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”  Ernest Hemingway was not just speaking of writing but of the grace in living, the grace we extend to others and in turn, receive ourselves. 

Catching a Wave

Catching A Wave

Pentecost 165

Just as our conversations about Norse and Celtic mythology did not follow a timeline, our exploration of the legends of Oceanica or Oceania will not follow a ship’s course or airline flight path.  In other words, we are going to go island hopping.  I hope you will join me as we explore the mythology of this wonderful part of the world.

Today we are catching a wave to Polynesia.  Polynesia is a wife and diverse section of the Pacific region and is thought to have been populated by people from Taiwan approximately five hundred years before European explorers reached the area.  Polynesia is comprised of different island nations such as American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, French Polynesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

The diversity of Polynesia hints at the richness of Polynesian myths.  The Cook Islands are a nation of fifteen islands which cover more than 2.2 million square kilometers or 1,375,000 miles in the Pacific Ocean.  Although many have never heard of Kiribati due to its remoteness and poverty, the sun has no problem finding it.  In fact, the sun rises first here every day.

Polynesia’s mythology is a vast treasure trove of oral literature, based upon priestly castes and hereditary rulers.  The influence of the stories is found in the mythologies of New Zealand and Hawaii.  There also many variation of the same myth.  Polynesian gods such as papa and Rangi are characters in stories along with Tangaroa, the Tahitian creator and Maori’s deity of the seas.

The remotest island of Polynesia is Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island.  Tangaroa is also a deity on Rapa Nui.  Legend tells Tangaroa landed on the island in the form of a seal only to be killed, cooked, and eaten by islanders who refused to see him as a god.

The variations of the these stories have a common bond with our modern world.  After all, that is one of the reasons these stories still speak to us, delight us, instruct us.  But what can the myths of Polynesia teach us?  For one thing, they emphasize the importance of respecting our environment.  Polynesian mythologies are rich in a diversity of deities with gods, heroes, demi-gods, and tricksters.  One of the most popular characters in these myths was Maui, the name of one of the islands of Hawaii.

One of my favorite myths of this region has to do with food.  (Not surprising if you are a long-time reader of this blog and yes, recipes will return during Advent.)  One of the most basic good crops in Polynesia is the root vegetable known as the yam, a fraternal twin to the sweet potato.  The Maori myth, one of several touting the origin of the yam, describes how the deity Rongo-Maui traveled to heaven to visit his brother Wahnui.  Wahnui was the guardian of the yam.  Rongo-Maui stole the yam, hiding it in his attire.  He returned to earth and later his wife Pani became pregnant.  She gave birth to a yam which Rongo-Maui shared with all of mankind.  Thus this first yam became a staple in the Polynesian diet.

The yam is high in dietary fiber although the sweet potato tends to be higher in nutritional value.  Both are high in potassium, vitamins A, B6, and C.  There is even evidence they can reduce cholesterol levels.  Eating a yam once a week can give birth to a healthier life.  Living the goodness of one’s beliefs also gives birth to greater goodness and everyone’s life needs that.

Mystery of a Myth

Mystery of a Myth

Pentecost 133

Yesterday we began our discussion of Egyptian mythology by a quick nod to the oldest of the three pyramids at the royal necropolis at Giza.  Constructed somewhere between 2589 and 2504 BCE, the Great Pyramid of Khufu is the only one of the original three pyramids that remains intact.  Some of the blocks that comprise its construction weigh over fifty tons while the other 2 million-plus blocks weigh anywhere from two tons to thirty tons.  As mentioned yesterday, this pyramid is aligned with the constellation Orion but it is not the only one that is.  The pyramids of Menkaure and Khafre are also so aligned.

The Egyptians had a deep reverence for the sky but they also recognized that earth gave us the ability to live.  Perhaps that is why the interior temperature of the Great Pyramid at Giza is a constant temperature that equals the temperature of the earth, 20-degees Celsius or 68-degrees Fahrenheit.  More amazing is that the cornerstone foundations of this pyramid have a ball and socket construction, just like our shoulders, elbows, and knees.  This type of construction allows the pyramid to deal with heat expansion and earthquakes.  Even the mortar is mysterious.  After much analyzation, the exact composition is still unknown and attempts to reproduce it have been unsuccessful.  Unlike conventional mortar used in bricks, this mortar is actually stronger than the stones is binds and connects.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was also known as “Ikhet” which translates as “glorious Light”.  If you remember, we discussed yesterday how it was originally covered in casing stones made of highly polished limestone.  These stones would reflect the sun’s rays, causing the pyramid to sparkle and shine.  It has been determined that such a covering of shimmering limestone made the pyramid similar to a mirror, reflecting light that, if one stood on the mood and gazed upon its location on earth, the pyramid would have shone like a star.  The quarry from whence these limestone blocks were quarried as well as how they were transported to the construction also remains a mystery we have yet to unearth.

What we do know is that the Great Pyramid of Giza is today the most perfectly aligned, accurate to one-tenth of a degree, edifice in existence.  When constructed the North Pole was in perfect alignment with the pyramid.  It is also at the very center of the land mass of the earth.  If you look at a map or globe, this might not seem true but it is in how such a center is determined that makes the statement true.  East/west parallels and north/south meridians intersect at two places.  The parallel and meridians are determined to be those that cross the most land.  One place of intersection is in the ocean while the other is…you guessed it, at the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The walls of the Pyramid are also unique.  For one thing they are concave.  The centers have an indention which forms an eight-sided pyramid inside, visible only from the air and only in certain light.  The eight-sided pyramid is visible at dawn and sunset on two vernal equinoxes – spring and autumn.  The pyramid also contained a swivel door, found in only two other pyramids.  The coffer was built during construction as its size prohibits it passing through any of the doors.  Its construction is also unique.  It was made from one block of solid granite which would have necessitated saws with blades eight to nine feet long possessing teeth made of sapphire.  Hollowing out its interior required extreme vertical force and the use of tubular drills also made of sapphire.  If take the perimeter of the coffer and double it and multiply that by ten to the eighth power you have the sun’s mean radius.

The mathematics might be coincidental except too many such equations exist to be merely random.  The curvature of the faces of the pyramid matches the radius of the earth.  For over thirty-eight hundred years, this pyramid stood as the tallest structure on earth.  The relationship between Pi (p) and Phi (F) is also somewhat of a mystery regarding the Great Pyramid.  Phi is the only number whose square root is one more than itself.  Phi is also known as the Golden Ration, a so-called perfect number found throughout nature.  Pi is the circumference of a circle compared to its diameter.  The Great Pyramid illustrates the relationship of Pi and Phi as well as giving proof to the Pythagorean Theorem, developed by Pythagoras in 570-495 BCE.  Using the Pythagorean Theorem one can construct a Golden Triangle or a perfect triangle with a right angle of 90-degrees or a right triangle.  The Great Pyramid of Giza has four Golden Triangles and perfectly illustrates the relationship between Pi and Phi.

Thus we have a very mathematical, permanent structure, withstanding countless earthquakes and intrusion and thievery.  After all, this was a pyramid whose construction was ordered by a young man, for Khufu was only twenty years of age when he assumed power.  The pyramid took twenty-three years to complete and many myths revolve around both the demeanor and the leadership/tyranny of Khufu as well as the labor needed to create such a memorial.

All too often great leadership does not reflect great humanitarianism.  Andrew Carnegie once said:  “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” The American industrialist Henry Ford is known for having introduced the moving assembly line and created the world’s first production in 1908.  I think someone in Khufu’s regime might have beaten Mr. Ford to the punch on that.  The Great Pyramid of Giza was built with mathematical precision and teamwork and each worker had to have given it his best.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was a great monument for a pharaoh that was not a great humanitarian. It stands today as a testament to the mythological beliefs about the soul being taken to the heavens.  It also incorporates another great myth, that of the underwater world of Atlantis.  Remember the granite coffer in the middle of the Kings’ Chamber?  Supposedly it came from Atlantis.  There are no engravings or inscriptions – just a very large block of chocolate granite.  It is said that the golden capstone also shows water level marks from the flood for which Noah built his ark.  A pyramid built in 2589-2504 BCE showing a watermark from a flood supposedly occurring in 2304 BCE with a stone in the middle from a city written about by a man who lived 427-347 BCE.  And somehow they are all connected…mysteriously.

Rocking the Cradle

Rocking the Cradle

Pentecost 119

Anyone who has ever rocked in a rocking chair knows the hypnotic power of the gentle rocking motion, a motion often repeated in the earliest of baby cradles.  The gentle to and fro has lulled many young to sleep and even as adults, we can find solace in the swaying.  Rock too hard, though, and it can all come crashing down, our balance is offset, and suddenly we are adrift.

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of mankind living in the second (or third, depending on how one measures) largest land-mass country we call China dating between 250,000 and 2.24 million years ago.  There is much debate about the name “China” and its origin.  Many believe it dates to an ancient Sanskrit word “chin” and “cine” while others claim it comes from the ruler Qin.

Even Chinese creation myths have some dispute among themselves.  The only thing not disputed is that we don’t know the really ancient ones.  In 213 BCE, the first emperor of China burned all books that were not specifically about medicine, farming, or prophecy.  “Wait a minute…” you might be thinking; “Isn’t mythology a part of prophecy?”  The short answer is …No.  The long answer is that mythology is a collection of stories about what has already transpired and how it can be used for living in the future.  Prophecy has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the future.

China is often called the cradle of civilization.  A cave near what we know as Beijing has yielded fossils that date from 680,000 to 780,000 BCE.  Known as the Peking man, these fossils are evidence of ancient man, Home Erectus, and there is proof that this being knew the value and importance of fire.  The same site has fossils belonging to Home Sapiens, which carbon-date 18,000 to 11,000 BCE.  The Jiahu Chinese symbol is thought to be the earliest Chinese writing which dates to the seventh millennium BCE and most believe their writing included ancient myths.

According to Chinese tradition, the first Chinese dynasty was the Xia somewhere around the timeline of 2100 BCE.  It was always considered “just a myth” until excavation was completed in 1959 which boasted evidence of the Bronze Age at Erlitou, Henan.  This is of great importance to people interested in mythology because similar findings have verified some of the myths of the Abrahamic religions discussed in August in this series.

These archaeological findings that give truth to some of the world’s most ancient mythologies are often dismissed as coincidence.  More people claim they just “muddy the waters” of science with imaginary ramblings of early beings, creating a type of chaos within the academic world.  The truth is that knowledge is never stagnant nor is it complete.  Life is all about growing and learning.  It is the real definition of evolution as well as living.

The Pangu creation myth is considered one of the oldest in Chinese mythology.  Pangu is said to have created order out of chaos by separating the heavens and the earth.  With his body, he continued separating the earth with the creation of the delineations such as the mountains, the seas, and forest regions.  Later a monster deity Gong-gong destroys the natural environment but it is restored by the Mother Goddess known as Nugua.

It is from Chinese mythology that we received two parts of the whole, the yin and the yang of the universe.  Yin represents the shaded parts of being while yang is the sunlit areas.  Pangu is said to have formed within an egg, an egg which represented the entire universe.  As Pangu hatched, the egg broke apart.  The yin or female mysterious and dark sections sank and became the earth.  The yang or sunlit areas rose and became the heavens.  This dichotomy is symbolized throughout Chinese mythologies and spiritualities.  Just as male and female unite in beings, so does the sun and the moon or yin join to make one complete day’s cycle.

We also have a dichotomy is our lives, quite a few of them in fact.  Things we want to do and things we must do; the bright aspects of our living and the darker, sadder areas of our being; the present with its promise of the future and the past, often which brings a listing of all our shortcomings and misdeeds.  The trick is to balance our own personal yin and yang.  Just as the first time one sits in a rocking chair, that balance is often hard to find.  Just as in the rocking of the chair or cradle, at some point we simply have to have faith and lean into the process of being.  We cannot stay rocking back or live only rocking forward.

Our balance completes us, creates order from the chaotic daily grind that we call life. We need both the day and the night, the active and the restful, in order to have a complete living.   To fully live also requires a dichotomy of sorts.  We must live in moderation in order to live fully.  I will end today with a quote from the spiritualist known as Rumi about life and balance, the rocking contrasts of living we all experience.  Considered a Persian, with a name that translates as “roman”, Rumi most likely actually lived in what today is a Soviet area, Tajikistan.  “Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.”

The Boomerang Effect

The Boomerang Effect

Pentecost 118

Although recorded in 1798 as “wo-mur-rang”, and defined as an aboriginal club, an anonymous manuscript dating back to 1790 was discovered which described the same type of club with the name “boo-mer-rit”.  Another written record lists the same type of club in the language of the Turuwal or Dharug aborigines’ people.

Often thought of as a throw stick, Australian aboriginal boomerangs date back to at least ten thousand years.  However, even older ones have been found in Europe, hunting tools going back to the Stone Age.  One European boomerang was discovered in Poland in the Carpathian Mountains.  It was made from the tusk of a mammoth and in a group of objects scientifically dated to an age of approximately thirty thousand years old.  Even the famous King Tut of Egypt owned a collection of boomerangs.  I bet you do as well.

Asian mythology differs from most of the rest of mythology, Native American or American Indian mythology being the exception, in its outlook.  Western mythology emphasizes a progression of self from the current state of being to reconciliation with the Absolute, a deity of complete power and being in the universe.  Asian mythologies see the world with both good and evil as a type of dance, a waltz in which one participates with the entirety of the universe.  Rather than separating good from evil, Asian mythologies viewed both as part of the whole.

Two other large differences exist in Asian mythologies.  First, they emphasize an underlying belief in animism, a belief that not only are people manifestations of an Absolute, so are all places and things.  Third, Asian mythologies see the timeline of mankind as more a cycle rather than a linear forward moving straight path.  The old saying “What goes around comes around” is another form of the karma these mythologies espouse.

We have no way to truly prove whether or Asian mythologies or western mythologies have the right approach.  We also have no way to truly and legally prove which creation theory is correct.  We also cannot prove just how the boomerang was invented.  It moves perpendicular to the ground, much like hold your arm bent above the ground.  Some believe the crook reflects a bent arm, much like a martial arts or defensive move when one is attempting to get another in a headlock.

The boomerang is actually the earliest man-made attempt at flying.  It is an aerodynamically correct airfoil, a wing with complicated math that early man figured out.  Many believe the returning boomerang was probably a mistake at first, an attempt to straighten out the throwing stick that, instead of going straight, actually returned to the sender.  A boomerang even works in outer space in zero gravity.  It was proven aboard SpaceLab, aboard the Soviet MIR, and most recently in 2008 by Japanese astronaut Takao Doi on the International Space Station.

So how are you a boomerang collector and how does this connect to our discussion of Asian mythologies?  Simple…and yes, it also is proven every day by people of all nationalities.  We may not have a physical collection of throwing sticks but we do harbor those spoken things and emotional feelings that are thrown our way.  And we, all of mankind, are very good at collecting them.

Western philosophy and psychology advocates confronting the accuser and seeking resolution in peaceful settings.  Western mythologies speak of forgiveness and moving forward seeking the Absolute, leaving the hurt self behind.   Asian philosophies, based upon Asian mythologies, state that one is already part of the Absolute and that only by losing one’s self can one find that harmony so desperately sought.

It is an interesting premise.  How would you act towards your coworker if you knew already that said coworker was going to give you the key to the most valuable vault on earth?  Most likely it would be like the beginnings of a love affair.  Very little bothers the couple when they are first smitten; only after the relationship has become mundane do little things start to annoy.  What once was seen as “cute” can become irksome.  How kinder would you be to the person who just stole your parking place if you knew the next one would provide you with a free shopping trip, letting you purchase anything and everything at no cost?

We put ourselves into the world but want to control how others view us, act towards, and respond to us.  We want life to move on our terms and when it doesn’t, we harbor ill feelings, holding on to them as if they were precious gemstones.  We have our own boomerang collection and even do good deeds only if they can also benefit us.

Whether you believe in a linear path to ultimate resolution or a circular one, a never-ending cycle that reflects the ultimate power in everything already present, our actions are powerful.  Not only are they powerful in affecting others, they are powerful in affecting ourselves.  Ultimately the best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to let things grow, hunt for the positive and trust that the negative will make its own metamorphosis.  We don’t need to harbor the negative, just waiting to throw it back to another.  We need to grow and move forward.  Life is not about collecting the bad or being stagnant.  Life is about throwing out good things to the world.  It’s the best kind of hunting stick and reaps the best harvest…here and in zero gravity.



Pentecost 112

Someone asked what I wanted my readers to do after reading these postings.  Playing on my penchant for things in groups of threes, they asked I limit my answer to just three words.  This is my response:  “Impact your world.” And, if I may, I will give a total of three responses: “Impact your living.”  Impact with Positivity.”

Yesterday I was asked for an opinion.  I have never met the person who was requesting opinions.  We are part of a large group of entrepreneurs and creative people and the group is to encourage an exchange of ideas and to receive feedback in a beta testing sort of way.  Members are from all over the globe and include a diverse field of expertise and businesses.  The likelihood of me ever meeting the person requesting the response is quite small, so minimal that I would say it will never happen.  There is a type of freedom in that and that fact is what guarantees that you will get an honest opinion.

I gave my opinion, the fourth in a series of what ended up being over thirty responses.  At the time I posted my opinion, all of the others were “Great!”; “Good for you!”; “Looks great!”  Mine was couched in positive terms but mentioned a typo (Yes, I can catch them in others’ work; not my own, though!) and some confusing verbiage. Mine was more like a paragraph than a clichéd “Atta boy” response.  Mine was also the only one the owner of the post thanked.  Why?  Because, I think, I took the time to give a complete opinion and explain how the issue had impacted me, whether or not it accomplished its purpose.

The word impact is not often used and yet, we all live it every day.  One seldom visits Greece without visiting the remains of the Greek mythologies and the temples they inspired.  There is even a replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, halfway around the world.  One cannot read a comic book or play a video game without seeing some character based upon ancient mythology.  The impact of these legendary stories may not convert you to a particular belief system or faith but they still have had an impact on you.

From the Latin word “impingere” we have the English word impinge.  The literal translation of “impingere” is “driven in” and is based on an older word which meant to “press firmly or restrict” but a much easier definition of impinge is something that pinches, interrupts, or affects.  It is not surprising that from this same Latin word we also get the noun and the verb “impact”.  As a noun, impact refers to an action of one object making contact, usually forcibly, with another object.  As a verb, it is the action of that forcible contact, the bumping, colliding, altering.

Fourteen years ago the sun was rising just like it seemed to do on any other day.  Dogs barked, stray cats rooted through garbage cans, and somewhere in the alleys of New York City, rats scurried near the docks.  People crowded onto subways, busses, and ferries to begin their commute while others were already at their offices, exchanging greetings at the water cooler, recovering overnight voice mails, and plugging in coffee makers.  Children searched for homework papers to put in their backpacks and morning news programs’ started rolling.  Throughout the city life illustrated the cry of the television directors in control rooms of all the major networks:  “We’re Live!”

Within two hours, the impact of a belief system held hostage by hatred and greed, in direct opposition to the teachings of the religious mythologies which claimed to be their reason, made those words a lie for almost three thousand people, their families, and their rescuers.  A group of men, who spent their last hours not living according to their faith or its rituals but rather engaging in superfluous drinking and gambling, impacted the world.  At a location where the world came to America, at a place so aptly named the World Trade Towers, death overtook life and impacted us all.

On this day fourteen years later, many are still in agony.  New construction is evidence of the need and desire to proclaim “we’re Live!” and beautiful memorials guarantee that those lost will never be forgotten.  The impact of their loss, however, can never be and should never be forgotten.  The delirious rantings and actions of deranged egos impinged the chance of the world to realize the potential of those lives lost.  Our naiveté was impacted by the hatred and loss of humanity when the unthinkable became a reality of death and destruction.

The task ahead for us is to pay honor to those whose lives were taken without letting the actions of the misguided and inhumane group of men impinge our own humanity and beliefs.  Without a choice, we all became victims.  Those who perished were from over eighty countries in the world and all of the world became a target on that day.  However, to really honor those who awoke that day and began to live, we must continue living.  We are lucky we have that choice – whether to remain a victim and live in fear and hatred or to live with compassion, understanding, and humanity towards all.

Violence can beget violence.  The mythologies of every culture reflect this.  Our job is to take those myths one step further and learn from them, eliminating the violence.  We need to leave positive impacts that will overwrite the negative impacts of such days as September 11, 2001.  Today, we need to do what those brave souls who began the day as ordinary citizens and ended it as heroes were doing.  Today we need to live.  In the words of the brave men who prevented further disaster by taking action on a flight which ended in a field in Pennsylvania, echoing the words that were also often repeated in the halls of the third battle field that day, the Pentagon….”Let’s roll” with life and make today a glorious example of living.  It is the best impact we can leave the world.

And then came ….

And then came …

Pentecost 107

In many countries this is the time that children go back to school, beginning another year of academic study.  This time of year is characterized by new textbooks, new notebooks, new laptops and usually new clothes or school uniforms, necessary because children grow.  It is easy with an infant to see growth.  After all, from one six month period to another, many changes occur, physically and emotionally.  With toddlers the intellectual growth becomes evident as they learn to test the boundaries they previously took for granted.  No longer can one put the child in a crib and rest assured the baby will remain there.  AS the child grows intellectually, their problem solving skills develop.  Hungry?  Push the chair over to the counter, climb up, open the cupboard, find the cookies hidden at the back and…instant resolution for the hunger!

Somewhere along the later teen years we seem to stop emphasizing our own personal intellectual growth.  Once our heads stop growing, we seem to think so should our brains and minds.  The mythologies of our Pentecost series are not presented in a timeline but rather geographically.  I have done this for three reasons.  First, I like organizing things by region.  I think it lends itself better to our imagined connections to these stories and using one’s imagination is critical when discussing ancient legends proclaiming warriors of the soul and spirits of the universe.  Secondly, we have no real proof of any timeline and, I believe, some of these stories appeared at opposite ends of the earth but at the same time.  I also have no proof of that but we do have evidence of other things.  For example, castanets and finger cymbals served the same purpose and are played very much the same and yet, appeared on earth at about the same time.  Their difference is the material with which they are made, material that is native to their respective cultures.

Thirdly, mankind grew and spread and some believe the ancient mythologies did as well.  Certainly, Greece influence those of the Romans.  I believe that as mankind traveled to other regions, so did the myths and beliefs of the people doing the traveling.  Regardless of their age, these stories still packed a powerful punch when told and retold.  To believe that older myths no longer have impact today discredits the very nature of storytelling.  While by the end of this series we will have discussed many myths and mythical characters, the world has many, many more with which to delight your mind and grow some new thoughts.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the telling and to forget that myths are like neighbors, the neighbors that the cultures of mankind truly are.  While one culture was developing one skill set, another was not necessarily sleeping.  Rather, they were busy doing their own thing.  Before Alexander the Great had reached the Indus River, what would become the farthest point of his empire, Buddha had been born and buried as had Mahavita, founder of the Jain religion.

Karl Jaspers, a noted German philosopher, described the period between 900 to 200 BCE as the “Axial Age”, a pivotal time in the development of mankind’s spiritual growth and religious development.  Axial refers to relationships, the axis being the central point around which things revolve.   Jasper pointed to this period during which four main world traditions developed:  Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism leading to the Abrahamic faiths in Israel; philosophical rationalism in Greece.  Many believe we are still in this period while others feel we have diluted the messages they presented to the world.

Today we consider the mythologies of our ancestors as being either religious or spiritual.  We might be surprised to discover they probably would have not considered them either.  Whether the stories were of Thor striking the heavens with his hammer to create lightning or an offering of either material sacrifice or whispered prayer to a deity omnipotent, the intent was the same.  The purpose of their believing was to create change, positive change in one’s living.

AS we begin tomorrow to study India’s mythologies in depth, I hope we remember these are not just stories told to an primitive audience that have no meaning today.  These are primordial stories, a genealogy of mankind.  If our lives are to have any meaning today and for tomorrow, we must recognize our origins and those things that gave life meaning.  We could learn quite a bit from those early beings that lived what we might consider very elementary lives.

In her book “The Great Transformation” Karen Armstrong emphasizes this:  “What mattered was not what you believed but how you behaved.”  The intent of all the mythologies we will explore during this series is that5 fact that they were told to explain and improve life.  The worships, the sacrifices, the rituals were not merely drama or entertainment.  Their purpose was to profoundly change the believer.

All too often today we go through our daily lives like robots or lemmings following the current trends as we attempt to swim upstream to some imaginary prize or status.  The mythologies of the past were all about creating a better tomorrow, inhabited and lived by a better mankind.  Tomorrow will be determined by what we do today, how we live today.  Who we harm, who we ignore, what will attract our attention, where we will spend our money…These are the things that define us.  These are our mythologies of today that we ourselves will write.  To complete our title question:  And then came… The answer is you.

On a Friday Evening …

On a Friday Evening

Pentecost 106

Friday evening is often that time in which many people begin their weekend, a time of relaxation.  It is a time in which we celebrate the seven-day week, especially the weekend part of it.  For many the weekend will begin with a visit to a pub, tavern, bar, or nightclub.  Beer will be ordered and new friends made with the inevitable opening line “What’s your [zodiac] sign?”

As you might have guessed, I am reading comments and while that might not sound like as much fun as going out, it does please me.  I find it interesting that the two most repeated comments tie into our next topic of conversation.  “Why Mesopotamia?  How could anything from such an ancient place relate to me?”

We tend to call the area known as the Middle East in its own land mass.  In reality, it is on the Asian continent since Turkey marks the divide between Europe and Asia.  I promised in September we would discuss the mythologies of Asia, the Far East and the Near East but to do so, we must first get there and that involves Mesopotamia.  AS mentioned before, the hundreds of creation myths told cannot belie the archaeological proof of mankind’s origins in the regions surrounding Mesopotamia.  Perhaps that is why the history of this area goes back so far into antiquity.

Those living in Mesopotamia in 9000 BCE domesticated dogs and sheep in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.  They cultivated wheat and barley and by 5500 BCE has developed the first irrigation system.  One thousand years later this technology to aid in farming would reach the Indus Valley in India.  In 7000 BCE mankind began living in rudimentary mud huts and not only had livestock consisting of goats, sheep, and pigs but also grew wheat from seed.

Also in 5500 BCE trading commenced from the Persian Gulf to Mediterranean port cities.  Mankind was no longer living in isolation, meeting others on the battlefield.  Culture was being sold and bought and spread along the trade routes.  In 3100 BCE cuneiform script developed and was used to record sales and contracts.  Cuneiform is not just one alphabet but a group of scripts all employing the use of wedge-shaped symbols.  In 2700 BCE Gilgamesh reigned over the city of Uruk, the fifth king to do so and many believe it was his reign that inspired the mythological poem about him we discussed yesterday.

“Why Mesopotamia?”  someone asked.  The answer is quite simple and hearkens back to the early beginnings of mankind.  Mesopotamia and its mythologies are important because they cannot be ignored.  In 1797-1750 BCE, during what is known as the Old Babylonian Period, Babylon became the capital of Mesopotamia.  Hammurabi composed one of the first legal codes in the history of mankind, a code which said to have been the basis for the Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian faiths, and a code upon which many legal systems have been based.

In 1295-1200 BCE, exact dates are unknown, the Jewish people participated in a great exodus from Egypt and the epic poem about Gilgamesh was composed.  It is not only the oldest surviving epic poem, it is considered the first known written legend.  In 1005-967 King David reigned in Israel and Jerusalem was established at the capital.  And yes, this is the same King David we discussed last year during Pentecost when we studied the psalms and hopefully, you wrote your own along with me.

So, in a few short paragraphs, we have connected Mesopotamia to the Greeks and Romans, the Abrahamic faiths, and, if you were paying close attention, even the typical Friday night club scene.  You see, the Mesopotamians not only developed that receipt the waitress gives you as a bill of sale and the alphabet it employs but also the beer served, the astrological calendar with its zodiac signs and the seven-day week that gave you the weekend.

For many, the weekend is the time they celebrate their beliefs.  For others, it is the end of one week and the beginning of another.  “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  Mother Teresa was not referring to the love one seeks to find on the weekend but the love of mankind, one being for another being, we all seek to experience in our daily lives and which our belief systems encourage.  Today is the first sentence of the next chapter of your own story, the mythology you are writing with your living.  I hope it is your best one yet!

A Rose…Is Not Always a Rose

A Rose is …Not Always a Rose

Pentecost 102

It is, on many calendars, the month of September.  September is named from the Latin “septum” which means seven and is the first month with a numbered name that is found in incorrect order on the calendar, the result of July and August being added and named after Roman Emperors.  This the month named “seen” is actually the ninth month.  September begins the meteorological autumn although the autumnal equinox does not actually fall until the third week of the month.  So while September is the month named seven, it is actually the month numbering nine on the calendar.

September is the sixth month on the astrological calendar and, while it falls in the middle of the Christian Pentecost, it is the beginning of the ecclesiastical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  September is also the beginning of new things, such as the start of the academic year for many school children lucky enough to attend organized educational classes.  Thus, while today marks the beginning of somethings, for others it is simply another day.  Like every day, it affords us all another chance to be better people.

As we learned last year during Advent when we discussed the various religions of the world based upon their Creation mythologies, there are many theories about how we became what we see in the mirror today.  Mankind, regardless of which creation myth you adopt, is believed to have had its origins in the areas known as Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent, and northern Africa.  From there, the species of primates known as man/woman spread and mankind emigrated.  Where mankind went, stories originated, stories that became myths and, in some cases, religions.

During this season of Pentecost, we have studied the ancient mythologies of our ancestors.  For some these are just the makings of a Holly wood movie but for others, they form the basis of life-long rules for living and worship.  For many of us, however, the ancient myths bear little resemblance to the realities of our modern beliefs.  The exception to this is found in the cultures of India and China.  The myths of their ancestors are not merely bedtime stories.  They form the basis of their society and their lives.

Of all the mythologies we have discussed, there might be the most valuable for future living.  Though one might expect industrialized nations will always hold the prominence in the world they currently have, the mere size of these Eastern countries indicate they will soon gain an important place and role in future living.  With China boasting a population of almost 1.5 billion people and India with over 1 billion, a number expected to grow, these two countries will soon take their place as major players on the world stage. Their ideologies cannot be dismissed as simply “foreign”.  The mythologies of these nations reflect their collective soul.

The country of India has created many things we currently take for granted.  The first irrigation for farming was used in the Indus Valley region of northwestern India in 4500 BCE.  Woven cotton cloth appeared in Mohenjo-Daro around 2500 BCE.  Around 1200 BCE, nomads from Europe invaded the Indus Vallet,  These nomads gave themselves the name “Aryan” which translated as superior.  Unlike the twentieth century connotations of this word, used by Adolf Hitler to define a race of non-Jewish Caucasians, these Aryan nomads were dark, olive-skinned Eurasian tribes.

The word Aryan is a myth itself.  It is derived from the Sanskrit word “arya” or “ariya”.  As mentioned before, it translates as superior, noble, or a person of higher consciousness.  The Name “Iran” is a modern version of this word.  Anyone who can trace their ancestry to Europe is known as a Caucasian, a name taken from the Caucasus Mountains in a region that for many centuries was controlled by Russia and has been, based upon the historical period, a part of both Europe and Asia.  People from this region did not live in dessert climes and so were not as tanned as their counterparts from the warmer regions.  Hence, we have the difference in skin colorations of the two groups.  The racial group who can trace its ethnicity to those living in the Caucasus Mountains are known as American Indians. The racial designations have no importance when regarding intelligence or potential.  They are just names and classifications and, as we have seen, can be misleading.

Shakespeare wrote the now-famous quote: “A rose by any other name…”  With all due respect to the Bard, that statement might very well be the other definition of myth – not a story but a falsehood.  As we have seen with the nomadic Aryans, a name can have great power but also great hurt.  The word Aryan and its usage by Hitler is generally traced to a mistranslation of the Rig-Veda, an Indian collection of religious writings and mythologies, into the German language.  Aryan became associated with the German word “ehre” and … well, the rest is a very tragic history.

The Rig-Veda is just one of the lovely spiritual stories we will discover this month.  I hope you join the conversation as we discuss some of the most ancient mythologies still actively a part of daily living that have their birth in the Far and near East.  I hope you continue our journey of mankind’s mythologies as we converse about blue-tinged deities, elephant-headed deities, a monkey king, and even avatars.  Yes, the oldest religion in the world connects with twenty-first century techonology!  Who knew?

There are an estimated three hundred and thirty million deities in these mythologies.  If you thought the eighty-six names for the God of the Abrahamic faiths we just discussed in August were something, hang on.  You are certain to find one of more interesting myths of India and, later in the month from Egypt, to whet your interest.  We will connect these stories to those of the Greek and Roman mythologies we discussed earlier in the summer.  The conversation continues….!

Strength Sufficient

Strength Sufficient

Pentecost 93

It is a story told in my family for decades, one that occurred around the turn of the twentieth century at a time when, in rural America, religious communities had visiting preachers.  These ministers of the circuit, as they were known, traveled from small church to small church, finding hospitality among the faithful who came to hear their preaching.

My ancestors had invited the traveling parson, as the story called him, to Sunday dinner which was held about mid-afternoon.  People traveled from their homes to the church in horse and buggy modes of travel so services began mid-morning.  Since this was before the time of modern electricity which is now found in almost every indoor chapel in the United States, the mid-morning start time also provided for ample lighting through the windows, even on a cloudy day.

Apparently having the traveling parson to dinner was quite an honor and the relatives from whom I had their story still remembered how polished everything had to be.  Floors were scrubbed multiple times, tabletops polished to reflect one’s face, and every corner clean enough to eat off of the floor and walls.

The family had more than ten children so long benches served the place of chairs on each side of the eight foot table.  Near the kitchen sat the patriarch of the family, a spot usually reserved for the mother.  On the day the preacher came to dinner, though, the preacher was given the patriarch’s place at the table, near the front door and away from the heat of the wood burning stove.  At one end was the father of the family, one of my great-something grandfathers, and at the other sat the traveling man of faith.

The children ate with their best manners and only spoke when asked a direct question.  No one refused to eat anything and no one took seconds until they received a nod indicating they could.  The minister was given first choice of everything and gratefully accepted the food offered.  Pies and cakes concluded the meal and then my great-something grandfather asked the parson if he’d had enough.  This was their conversational exchange:

“Preacher, have you had a sufficiency?”

“What’s that you say?  You went fishing?”

“Preacher, have you had a plenty?”

“Oh, you say you caught twenty?”

At this point, as the story goes, the multiple children on each side of the table were being warned with a stern look from both their mother and father to sit still and keep a blank face.  I remember hearing that they bit their lips and/or looked at their laps to keep from laughing.  Children in that day and age were expected to be respectful and never laughed at adults.  The visiting preacher was an older man and obviously hard of hearing.  My great-something grandfather was not one to accept defeat, however.  He tried one more time.

“Preacher, have you had all you can hold?”

“Oh, that’s too bad.  You broke your pole!”

I don’t remember the first time I heard this story but I do remember hearing it as a teenager and asking a question.  “Did anyone laugh; did any of the kids laugh?”  I was immediately assured no one did because…They had gone to church and their Lord had helped them keep a straight face and be respectful.

I must admit I do not think I have ever asked God for assistance or strength in keeping a straight face although the relative telling me this story was certain I had.  The deity of this relative’s faith was the strength with which we lived our daily lives and, at some point in time, were called upon to not laugh out loud at another’s situation.

It is an interesting concept, the strength we allow our deity or deities to exert, with which they are characterized, and to which we rely upon in our beliefs.  Apparently, early believers had no problem identifying their monotheistic deity with strength.  Jehovah Uzzi translates as “the God of my strength”.  They took this idea of a strong deity a step further.  Jehovah Sali, the Lord my rock; Jehovah Magen, the Lord my Shield – all were named given to the one deity of the Abrahamic faiths and even those religions not using the Hebrew names, used the descriptions in their holy writings.

Like my great-something grandfather’s words, religion became misconstrued and in time, often a danger to those who believed,  Thus their strong deity became a fortress and one with whom their asked for defense against their tormentors.  Jehovah Mauzzi, the Lord my fortress, and Jehovah Maginnenu, the Lord our defense, were prayed to and characteristics of the strength of the deity of the faithful.

All too often in our busy hectic world, our faith can get a bit skewed.  We hear the clamor of society rather than the echoes of the holy mythologies of our faith.  Instead of having all the belief we can hold, we allow the world to break our pole of faith.  It is easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of what seems to be trendy instead of taking time to be quiet and listen to the whispers of the holy.  The Lord is not deaf.  Are we?