Sunday, October 31, 2004

Plato and the Planets

Human fascination with heavenly bodies extends to prehistoric times. Probably today the interest is the least that it has ever been. We have some practical reasons for studying the planets and stars but it is a collective endeavor of specialists and is not important on a day to day or month to month basis to an average individual. Few of us need to observe moon and stars in order to know when to plant or when to move camp and what to hunt. Whereas today we perceive these to be physical objects, the ancient world believed the lights were somehow connected to the divine. Plato acknowledged that the trajectories taken by the planets was a mystery that needed to be explained. (The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas). The ancients spent a lot of time trying to solve this mystery. Despite their considerable efforts, the answer required about two thousand years from the time of Plato. It was not due to ignorance or lack of virtue on their part. They lacked the mathematical tools and astronomical equipment and a surrounding thought infrastructure. Now, if I put myself into the place of Plato, what problems do we have today that are like that? This calls me to humility. Despite the fantastic changes in my lifetime due to the advances of science and technology, there are still mysteries for us and things we cannot know. And there are theories about which we must certainly be wrong, even with our best efforts.

To Plato, solving the puzzle of these astronomical phenomena was a task of religious significance. It was a spiritual task. Perhaps science and religion have been at odds with each other in the past 150 years, but I still believe pursuing science is a spiritual activity.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

From Within You

In the early eighties, I picked up a copy of the Nag Hammadi Library, a book with english translation of ancient manuscripts found in the Egyption dessert in the forties. It is mostly gnostic material and very boring, with one major exception, a work titled "The Gospel of Thomas". It consists mostly of short sayings of Jesus in quick succession, in apparent random order. Scholars agree that it was written no later than mid-2nd century of the Christian era and some place it in the first century. It is short, only 114 verses. About two-thirds of the sayings are identical or similar to material in the gospels. Reading through it the first time was exciting because of the unpredictable nature of the material. In between somewhat familiar passages would be some rather wild and unexpected ones. Some of the sayings had a Zen feel to them. I do not take this book as representing what Jesus actually said, but believe it was a flawed but honest take on what some early christians perceived. Here is an example.

Verse 70 Jesus says: When you bring forth that which is within you, this that you have shall save you.

Now this statement taken by itself can mean almost anything we want it to, good or bad. But I kinda think it does contain a truth. One of discernment can and should bring forth what is within. For further information regarding the Gospel of Thomas, there is The Gospel of Thomas home page and the Gospel of Thomas Commentary, for starters.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Out of the Depths

Several years ago I came under the spell of a piece of choral music by Arvo Part by the title "De Profundis". It is moving and haunting to me. Not too long ago I discovered that it is based on the text of Psalms 130, a passage which begins "Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord". So, in short, that is the inspiration for the title of this Blog.

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