Pyramid or Something Else?

Pyramid or Something Else?

Pentecost 132

It is seven city blocks long and wide.  Known as the Great Pyramid of Giza (and yes, there are other “great pyramids” worldwide), it was constructed in 4500 BCE.  The name is something of a misnomer, however, since there are actually three pyramids.  They were constructed to honor the grandfather Khufu, the son Kaffre, and the grandson Menkaure.  The pyramid built to house the body of Khufu was coated with white limestone and had a gold capstone.  Like most pyramids’ purpose, we assume it was built to house the body of the pharaoh.  But could it have had a different purpose?  Was there another reason for the construction and why are the three pyramids placed in the positions they were built?

Storytellers in Egypt did not just tell stories.  They had archaeological show-and-tell artifacts to accompany their legends.  The legends of this region are plentiful and, although many visit things such as the Great Pyramid(s) and the various Sphinxes, not much is really known about most African and Egyptian mythology.  First of all, these stories were and still are mainly found in the form of oral tradition, passed from generation to generation by mouth.  Additionally, the belief systems were not that organized and it is difficult to identify the thousands of deities in these myths.  Froom Benin and the Fon religion to Mali with its Dogon mythology, every facet of living became symbolic, based upon some myth.

Egyptian writing refers to a limitless creator, the “Hidden One whose eternal form is unknown.”  In Egyptian mythology, a deity exists first as potential energy.  That energy or potential would then take shape, usually an animal form or combine with another deity.  It is really interesting to me that they treated their deities like scientists treat elements.  Think about the Periodic Table of Elements.  Each exists on its own and yet, most can and are combined to form something else.  Hydrogen and oxygen exist in their natural state but when combined, with twice as much hydrogen as oxygen, then they become what we known as water – H2O.

The Egyptian goddess Ra joined with the god Horus and became Ra-Horakhty; Isis, the Egyptian goddess who is the patron saint of mothers and children and not the radical terrorist modern group who goes around killing mothers and children, formed an alliance with Renenutet, a goddess of fertility and the harvest who was often portrayed in the form of a cobra, to become Isermithis.

It is important to note that while the Egyptians did not worship animals, they did hold in high esteem the animal forms they believed their deities took.  Animals were mummified so that they might be reincarnated.  Animals were also embalmed and received proper burials for much the same purpose.  It was believed that showing such reverence to these animal forms would give a person special blessings and consideration by the deities.  The reincarnated animals would act as liaisons between the gods and goddesses and mankind.

The power of a story is very evident in sub-Saharan Africa and it holds the attention today just as it did when the first stories were told.  One of the more famous myths is from the Ashanti of Ghana and it addresses how these mythologies came to be.  These Anansi stories, so named because the myth gives credit to Anansi, a crafty spider, for convincing the sky deity Onyankopon to release the stories in exchange for Anansi trapping various gods in his web.  The myth proclaims that Anansi, with the help of his wife, even captures Mmoatia, the spirit, considered a most impossible task.

The sky was very important to ancient Egyptians.  Writings known as Pyramid Texts refer to the stars as “imperishable ones”.  The Egyptians believed that, upon his death, the Pharaoh would be transformed into a celestial being.  Did they construct their pyramids, and especially the Great Pyramid of Giza to be more than just a large burial crypt?  The sides of all three pyramids face north, south, east, and west.  The entrance of the largest of the three pyramids faces due north to within one-tenth of a degree.  This is an amazing fact given the tools they had at the time of the pyramid’s construction.  Additionally the descending passage into the burial chamber itself also faced north.

The internal design of this pyramid is fascinating.  It is believed that the Egyptians determined due north using the Pole Star method.  The Pole Star would have been a fixed point and once due north was identified and the passageway built, then construction continued on the rest of the pyramid.  The King’s Chamber is at the heart of the sarcophagus and is directly on the center axis.  It would have contained the mummified body of the pharaoh.

The north and south walls have two shafts and we can only speculate at their purpose.  Was it to provide ventilation or perhaps illumination?  The Egyptians believed the soul was immortal and could not die.  They embalmed and mummified so that the “ka” or body could be unified at some point in the future with the “ba” or soul which, upon death, would be sent or beamed up to the stars.

Beaming a soul up to the stars may sound more like modern-day science fiction than ancient Egyptian mythology but the Egyptians thought of such long before Star Trek had Scotty beaming up Captain Kirk.  Remember, the Egyptians thought one’s soul went to the stars upon death.  The north and south shafts in the Great Pyramid of Giza bend at some point so they could not have simply been observation points.  They do, however, align with the brightest stars of the constellation Orion or rather, they would have aligned at the time of the construction.  We’ve discussed previously the North Star and how the North Star of today has not always nor will forever be the North Star due to something called precession.   The north shaft connected directly to Thuban or Alpha Draconis, a former North Star while the shaft on the southern side aligned with Osiris, the Orion’s constellation god of afterlife.  Osiris also represented the complete cycle of life to the Egyptians – birth, death, and resurrection.

We will discuss this Great Pyramid again but for now, ask yourself:  What captures your spirit today?  What gives your soul release?  What is it that allows you to feel free, really free in your mind?  The purpose of all of these myths was not simply to entertain but to explain.  We often forget to stop and ask ourselves some very important questions, questions like “What would really make my spirit soar?  I have a feeling the questions at the beginning of this paragraph, when you first read them, invoked answers in your mind that went something like this.  What captures my spirit?  Work and responsibilities; they capture and enslave me.  What gives me release?  Going home or, perhaps, going to the movies or out on the town.  What allows me to feel free?  A nice cold beer or piece of chocolate or maybe even a long hot soak in a hot tub or bubble bath.

It is important to know not only where we have been and where we are going, but also to know what drives us and what can give us rest.  Thuban is no longer the North Star but it remains an important nautical marker which continues to guide sailing vessels.  Naval historians know that the USS Thuban, an attack cargo ship served valiantly and was of great importance to the United States Navy during World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The naming of this ship is yet another instance of how ancient mythologies never fade away or die.  They are as immortal of the deities whose stories they tell.

Our living also leaves its footprint on the world.  We may never have a ship named after us or have a great pyramid built in our honor but we do leave our mark.  The trick is to make certain that we are leaving something positive.  We all have a legacy.  Unlike these myths and the spirits about which we are discussing, we can write our own story, create our own legacy.  What will you write today?

From Cartoon to Classic

From Cartoon to Consecrated
Lent 29

We’ve all made them. You’re sitting in a very long meeting or maybe involved in very one-side telephone call. Perhaps you are stuck waiting for an appointment or just stuck….working on a problem or even writing an article. The pencil or pen in our hands starts to move and suddenly we have a doodle.

The term “doodle” is derived most likely from a German word meaning simpleton and certainly in the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, that is the intended definition. As a verb, doodle means to defraud or swindle. As an art form, though, doodles may be simplistic, but they can serve very real purposes. Scientific studies have revealed that doodling can help one focus as well as reveal what a person really feels or is thinking.

In recent times the graphic novel has brought validity and recognition to the cartoon which some feel is an elevated form of doodling. Cartoons first appeared as political commentaries, putting forth in art serious concepts presented in humorous form. Often the artist’s life was spared by doing this rather than being arrested as a traitor to the reigning regime. For those who could not read, a talent held only for the elite in some ancient cultures and often discouraged by law for those seen to be lower classes, the cartoon provided a means of communication.

Communicating respect for, stories of, or pride in one’s spiritual beliefs has long been practiced as a part of theology and/or spirituality. Every culture has sought a way to leave their mark and many have left artistic scrapbooks of their existence whether it is a simple cave drawing or the more elegant fresco. A fresco is a design painted with water onto a wet plaster wall. It requires not only the skill of the artist but also the ability to work fast before the plaster dries. There is a dry fresco style but those frescos require the artist to paint on the service while the more traditional fresco format incorporates the paint and the drawing into the actual plaster.

We may think of doodles and cartoons as child’s play but they actually are the first step in the painting of a fresco. The artist makes a cartoon, a preparatory drawing before mixing his paint powders with water and taking brush to plaster wall. While cartoons gained popularity for their humor, the original cartoon was a guide, a two-dimensional representation of what would become a three-dimensional masterpiece.

It is hard not to marvel at the frescos remaining in the world. While some are still being painted, far more are being destroyed. This past week the Middle East Media Research Institute released photographs taken in the ancient city of Nineveh which showed the destruction of historical churches and the destruction of priceless artifacts, some frescos dating back to the first century ACE and earlier. The United Nations has condemned these actions which ISIS has proudly and boastfully claimed credit. The cultural annihilation of centuries of ethnic evidence has been condemned by many of the world’s leaders. “We cannot remain silent,” Irina Bokova, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said Friday. “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”

The use of frescos to portray spiritual beliefs dates back to the Romans at Pompeii and earlier on the isle of Crete. It was the technique employed in the painting of the Sistine Chapel and has become known as a Christian art form but was evident in many different ideologies and theologies. Depth was illustrated by marking indentations in the wet plaster with layers of paint added. Marble dust was often sprinkled into the paint to give it a glittery effect, the effervescence and depth giving life to the artwork.

The recent destruction of these sacred works of art is not one ideology trying to erase another’s presence, as some may claim. It is an attack on all of mankind. The tomb of Jonah, a prominent figure not only in Judeo-Christian scripture but also prominent in Islamic teachings was recently desecrated. A group that uses religion as its motivation should not and cannot justify their actions when their actions defile their own historical and cultural art forms. Those that follow them are not thinking, preferring to wallow in the worst of human behavior rather than see the sacred in themselves.

That which has been created is said to never really die. While mankind’s preferences may change and one’s palette may become educated to enhance appreciation, the creative spirit will forever live on as long as one man has breath. The choice to create or destroy is ours, one we face every hour of every day. The onus is on us to make certain our living is a cartoon, a preparation for what follows, and not a caricature, a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

An ideology, theology or spiritual belief should be able to stand on its own merit. If it must destroy in order to show reason for its being, then it has no purpose in being and denies the very reason for its existence. The destruction of temples, churches, and masterful artwork makes a mockery of sacred theology and the very men who conduct these heinous acts. Their caricature of their faith insults it. We have the choice to live a sacred belief in a sacred manner and that is done by positive action, not destruction.

Each of us is a created classic, a unique individual in the process of blossoming into our full potential. Unlike an annual plant that blooms only one season and then dies, our living continues on even after our passing. Our footprints leave impressions on those we meet and those yet to come. It is the way of mankind that we build on what was and honor the past with the future. We find the sacred by building, not destroying. Our purpose is to make certain the living we do today is a cartoon, a preparation for tomorrow and not a grotesquely exaggerated caricature that mocks our being. We each live in the shade of yesterday and our living is an outline for tomorrow. How we apply the sacred determines our future and gives reason and meaning for our being. After all, your life is not just a doodle but a masterpiece.

The Face of Action

The Face of Action
Epiphany 37

We’ve all seen the pictures of the children who, as they walk alongside parents carrying all their earthly possessions, are the face of need. We’ve all seen the glamorous pictures of stars on a red carpet, complaining their privacy is invaded while they bask in the spotlight and wear the face of attitude and, perhaps, arrogance. We’ve all seen the pomp and ceremony of the really, really wealthy as they host lavish parties displaying the face of wealth and boredom. We’ve all seen the face of the working man/woman walking home trying to do the math in his/her head that will stretch a dime into a dollar, wearing the face of desperation. We’ve all sat in our most comfortable chair and, as we channel surfed through the offering of television, wearing the face of conscious thinking, “Wish I could do more.”

A young woman from Prescott, Arizona in the southwestern United States of America watched the glamorous red carpets and read about the lavish festivities of the rich and famous. She respected the working ethic passed onto her by her family. However, it was the image of the children that stayed with her. When she looked in the mirror, Kayla Mueller had an epiphany and knew she was looking at the face of action.

Today the world learned that Kayla Mueller was dead, the proof of such being provided by her captives, members of the group known as ISIS. They claim Kayla was the victim of a Jordanian air strike several months ago but since they had also once demanded millions of dollars for her safe return, that story is doubtful. What is known is who Kayla Mueller is and that she was on a humanitarian mission of charity when she was forcibly taken as she left a hospital. She posed no threat and was only in the region to help the children. Her captives viewed her singing and smiling with the youngest of their culture detrimental.

Her family today released the following to acquaint the world with their daughter. “Since graduating from Northern Arizona University in 2009 after only two and a half years {normal programs of study take four], Kayla devoted her career to helping those in need in countries around the world. The suffering of the Syrian refugees drew Kayla to the Turkish/Syrian border in December 2012, to work with Support to Life, the Danish Refugee Council, and other humanitarian organizations to assist families who had been forced to flee their homes. Kayla found this work heartbreaking but compelling; she was extremely devoted to the people of Syria.”

Their news release continues: “From her college graduation through 2011, she lived and worked with humanitarian aid groups in northern India, Israel, and Palestine. She returned home to Arizona in 2011, and worked for one year at an HIV/AIDS clinic while volunteering at a women’s shelter at night. Prior to her work in Syria, in December 2011, Kayla worked as an au pair in France to hone her fluency in French in preparation for her work in Africa. The common thread of Kayla’s life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others.”

I hope the epiphany and legacy of Kayla Mueller is that the face of action looks just like the one you see in your mirror every day. We can’t all go globetrotting nor should we. They are things we can do here. In his speech on the mall in Washington, DC, USA, fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “I have a dream.” His dreams were well-known among his friends and followers. He had great visions of the potential of mankind and how we could embrace our diversity. He saw each child as a gift and as the answer to the world’s problems if only that child could be treated as an equal and given the rights all mankind deserved.

They are programs in your town to assist the needy. There are women’s shelters in every large metropolis as well as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Maybe you can clean out your closet and donate clothes to the needy. Perhaps you have nothing to share except your time; some homeless shelter would love your time. Maybe you could assist an elderly neighbor with their yard work or make blankets for orphanages halfway around the world. One skein of thread can make two hats for homeless children and crafts stores in every town will be happy to teach you how to knit or crochet.

Perhaps your skills are in construction. Volunteer your services and skills to help winterize or fix up houses of the needy in your area. Maybe a local library needs your time or talents. Children’s hospitals need volunteers as do animal shelters. Petting a cat or dog for an hour is a great service that costs you nothing except maybe the bus ride. Schools always need reading mentors and summer city programs are happy for volunteers.

Kayla Mueller believed in the goodness of mankind and the right of each person to live. She was the face of action yesterday but today, she has become the face of an angel. Tomorrow needs a new face of action. The world is knocking on your door. Tag – you’re it!