Places of regeneration

Immigrant on Earth

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The Holy Dormition Monastery in Michigan, one of my places of regeneration

There are certain places in this world which have healing power. Some of them are spatial; others are temporal. Alyosha Karamazov was remembering his mother’s face, praying: that is also a place of healing, even if it is about a face–or rather about a relationship. Remembering it, being in its presence, does not allow you to think bad things. The embrace of my grandma. I cannot judge people while I remember her embrace. A monastery: peace penetrating your bones.

In my experience, all of these places have one feature in common: you are loved.

Preserve the places of regeneration of this world. Which may also mean, “become a place of regeneration for others.” And this may mean: “embrace whoever is in your presence.”

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Moments of life with Neil Diamond

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I have the feeling I forgot something in the hotel room. And I am bothered by the fact that I couldn’t check in for my flight. “We could not reserve seats for all passengers. You need to check in at the airport.” Bummer! I need to get to the airport fast, to solve the problem, so a little bit of stress takes a hold of me.

“Good morning!” The driver of the shuttle is in his 70s, the age of my dad. I’m not good enough with accents to realize which part of the US he is from, but there’s something warm in the song of his voice. “Sunday morning!” he says. “Easy drive today, we’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

“Did I really forget something in the hotel room?”

There are no other passengers in the shuttle. We make a U-turn, and the driver starts a CD. And my life changes:

Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing
But then I know it’s growing strong

His voice is really warm, and he sings along the CD. There’s a force pulling me, too, and I can no longer hold it. Two strangers singing together in an airport shuttle:

Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me, touching you

I forget that I forgot something in the hotel room:

Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good

“Do you like singing?” I ask him. “Oh, yeah! I used to run the corporate parties. I did the 45 minutes Elvis routine. I had a ball doing that.” He had some problems a few years ago with his vocal chord, and he had to stop.

Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good

I don’t know his name. He probably knows mine from the ticket. Still, it’s brother’s love.

It’s love, Brother Love say
Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
And grab the old ladies
And everyone goes
‘Cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show

We arrived at the airport, and I haven’t checked the time once. “A good day sir!” he says. “It’s Sunday.”

I forgot my phone charger in the hotel room.

Let’s fly! It’s a good day to die.

 

The journalist and the philosopher

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The journalist and the philosopher are both engaged in study. Journalists are trained to look at the world around them. They describe it, and they see its sins. And they become righteous.

Philosophers are trained to look at the world inside them, to forget their surroundings. They discover this world with fear and trembling. When they turn their gaze toward the world around them, they see in it the manifestation of their own sins. And they may become merciful.

A human being may wake up a philosopher and go to bed as journalist. Or vice versa. Or be journalist to some and philosophers to others. Perhaps the best combination is to be journalist to yourself and philosopher to others.

Nursing students and being human

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Ready to fly. Photo Andrei

There is always a very humbling experience when I participate in a graduation or a pinning ceremony. This is not because I feel that I may have contributed in any way to the development of these students. In fact, I have not–and this is not modesty. The emotion that comes from these ceremonies has to do with something else: I have been a witness to a process of giving birth to beauty. And I emphasize: a witness. Of course, my colleagues and I (and I include here all colleagues, from faculty, to student services, to administration, to people working in all areas of the college) were there: we had lectures, graded papers, got angry at times, rejoiced at other times, but we still were only witnesses. Active witnesses, but witnesses. Beauty was already present in these students. We may have checked the status of the pregnancy at times, helped them in one way or another, but the beauty in them was growing without our doing. The students who graduate have been through many things. There were times when they may have considered to give it up. But they went on, faithful to the beauty that they knew they had within themselves.

Life truly is a miracle. We often believe we have much power over it, but, fortunately for us, there are moments when we realize that life takes place beyond ourselves. Such a moment is a pinning ceremony, like the one in which I participated today: during it, students thank the ones who have been together with them in their journey–their witnesses. It is an exercise in giving thanks well. Eucharistia.

All of these students will become nurses. This means that they will give themselves to others so that they could bring them back to health, to beauty. If we respond to the suffering of another with our presence, our own suffering gains in dignity, because we become what we are, human beings.

To be a nurse, to work in a field in which you bring people to health, is to be a birthgiver of beauty, and it is moving and humbling to witness it. In fact, to be a nurse, to live life in giving oneself to another, is what it is to be human. It is a fight against loneliness and for living in communion.

 Can you imagine what it means for a philosopher to witness a notion incarnated?

The thirds, nameless people for whom there is no song

Immigrant on Earth

Many may be familiar with Taylor Swift’s song Style (I included a video of it below). I have listened to it many times, but it was only this morning that it made me wonder about something: how would “the other girl” feel when listening to it? I do not assume that the song is about real life; I just imagine how this conversation would sound in the third person’s ears.

There’s something very human in these verses: a mutual acceptance based on the understanding that we are made of the same stuff. The girl in the song says, “I heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl.” The guy confesses: “What you heard is true, but I can’t stop thinking about you.” Nothing special, young people sorting out their relationship. But then the girl replies, “I’ve been there, too, a few times.”

Now there is something quite…

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Christ is risen!… Now… what?

Immigrant on Earth

 

Today is the Sunday of the Resurrection for Orthodox Christians. It comes at the end of the Holy Week, the most beautiful period of the entire year. Its beauty stems precisely from the Sunday that comes at its end, because you live every moment in view of the Resurrection. It is a tiring and very emotional week; with every Bridegroom service, every Presanctified Liturgy, with the Holy Unction of Wednesday, the washing of the feet, the Last Supper, the lowering from the cross and the Lamentations of Friday, you walk with Christ on an excruciating path. Even if you spend hours upon hours in church, I don’t know of a more productive week, and I truly believe this is so because, although you may believe you walk with Christ, it is He who walks with you. Participating in the act in which God glorifies himself, on the cross (!!!)…

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I Am a Nobody for Whom Someone Is On a Cross

Immigrant on Earth

When I was a child, my aunt took me one day to a monastery close to where I lived: the monastery at Sambata de Sus, Romania. A blind monk lived there, Father Teofil; he had fame among people. Some were saying that he had clairvoyance and that he sensed characters, seeing what people did. I was really afraid because of that. I was a child, but there was something of which I was ashamed. I do not remember what it was, but I clearly know that I did not want my parents to find out. I went to the monastery wondering how much this monk would see through me. In fact, I did not want to go there and I did not want to see him. Of course, I did not confess my fear to my aunt–why would a good Christian boy be afraid of going to a monk?–but I…

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Giving definitions and Grushenka’s spring onion

Immigrant on Earth

I do not eat meat. As one may imagine, whenever I arrive at this topic in a conversation, I always get this reply: “So you are a vegetarian.” This is a fairly safe conclusion. People who do not eat meat are vegetarians (taken in general, without the various definitions depending on peculiar traits); Tavi does not eat meat, so Tavi is a vegetarian. However, I always reply with “no, I am not a vegetarian.”

Needless to say, my interlocutors are always confused and look at me with mistrust. Answers vary from “so you do eat meat” to “you’re funny…” The conversation may get into details, and I explain that I claim that I am not a vegetarian because the term “vegetarian” carries a lot of baggage (including political baggage) and that I prefer to avoid being placed into a category. For me, I am a human being who happens not to…

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Hoarders of ideas

 

IMG_6253.JPGI once read or heard, and I don’t remember who said it (for some reason, I think it was a podcast of Fr. Thomas Hopko; if anyone has heard it, please let me know the source), that we can consider that our minds are similar to a room. The pieces of furniture in these rooms are ideas—not the Platonic ones, but ideas that we form by our interaction with the environment. During a human life, even if we speak of wealthy young men, as the Stranger calls them in the Sophist, these ideas shape the room. Because of their various source, they often do not match, just as when we buy furniture at different moments in time and from different stores without considering what we have previously bought and what we have inherited or received as a gift. Since a mentioned The Sophist, the purpose of a sophist seems to be to create more stuff that humans can buy, so that their souls are filled even further. The effect is disastrous for a human being: it is the ignorance of the worse kind, when someone has no knowledge but believes one knows. One becomes one’s own god. Filling one’s room with more and more furniture, one can no longer see outside it and is no longer able to come out of the door, for there is no door: it has been covered with pieces of furniture. There are no windows, for they have been covered as well by the multitude of the pieces of furniture that populate the room.

This image is that of a hoarder, but one who is not aware of one’s own hoarderness. It is also the manifestation of a disease and of ugliness, and so we may say that one needs purification. But a sophist, at least according to Plato’s dialogue The Sophist, does not consider curing the people he interacts with. It would be in his disadvantage to do so. He is not a hoarder, but he is producing that which the hoarder buys. The main difference between him an a consumer is that a sophist realizes what the soul is: a place for ideas. In order to get ahead in this world, he creates them. He brings them to life, and he makes others live in them. If he is a good merchant, he needs to understand how his customers work, and their hoarderness makes his business thrive. Confusion and lack of clarity provide his element and, as consequence, he is hard to be grasped, because he has learned to be anything. As we see in Plato’s The Sophist, even if the impression is that consumers deal with him, they deal only with his appearance, and so they get entangled within a world that is not.

But then there is the one who engages in refutation. In The Sophist, this guy seems to be a sophist as well, for he engages in the art of refutation, the elenchus, the “greatest and most authoritative of purifications” (230d). It is the Socratic art of questioning, which he examines opinions with ease, brings them together in the same place, puts them side by side one another, “and in so putting them he shows that the opinions are simultaneously contrary to themselves about the same things in regard to the same things in the same respects” (230b). Or that we are hoarders. The art of purification has beauty as result. As the Stranger puts it, “one must hold in turn that whoever’s unrefuted, even if he is in fact the great king, if he is unpurified in the greatest things, has become uneducated and ugly in those things in which it was fitting for whoever will be in his being happy to be purest and most beautiful” (230d-e).

Is the refuter a sophist? He appears as one who engages in debates for the sake of debating. How often do we hear that Socrates is just a guy who likes to hear himself talking and who engages in fruitless discussion? I, for one, hear this too often. It shows how easy it is to perceive the work of refutation as the work of sophistry. After all, the Stranger claims in the dialogue that the philosopher and the sophist are both difficult to see vividly, so there is a connection, but in two different ways. “The philosopher,” he says, “devoted to the idea of that which is always through calculations, it’s on account of the brilliance of the place that he’s in no way easy to be seen, for the eyes of the soul of the many are incapable of keeping up a steady gaze on the divine” (254a; I’m using Seth Bernadette’s translation). The sophist is “a fugitive into the darkling of ‘that which is not,’ to which he attaches himself by a knack, and on account of the darkness of the region, he’s hard to get an understanding of” (254a). So perhaps the purpose of each could not be more opposed. Refutation fills not with ideas; instead, it cleanses the soul of them. It shows that all of these pieces of furniture do not match, that our rooms are ugly, regardless of the beauty of any piece of furniture that we may have there by mistake. On the contrary, sophistry creates more and more stuff and encourages a consumer society.

So perhaps there are two activities for a philosopher: refutation and dialectics. What connects them is that a philosopher is in both of them the agent of bringing to light that which is already present. In the case of refutation, it is the disease that is revealed so that it can be eliminated. A philosopher would not replace the previous stuff with anything else. In Socrates’ words from the Meno, he numbs others because he is numb himself. But even if his numbness is not to be understood as complete emptiness, a philosopher knows that what he has is not his. He rather has the privilege to discover it. And, through refutation, he places others in the possibility to discover it themselves, or to engage in dialectic. For in dialectic, a philosopher no longer interacts with others, but seems to be rather by himself, in a work of contemplation in the region of the divine, where one brings nothing with oneself because everything is already present, although in a hidden manner. Dialectic reveals the beauty of eternal ideas.

A philosopher and a sophist then both work with the souls of others, at least when dialectic is not involved. In their interactions with them, something happens: something comes to be. The lack of interest for truth in a sophist and also the presence of some awareness about how to catch others make the sophist produce that which is not so that it can be sold. The love for truth in a philosopher sends him into a work of revealing: first, revealing disease in those who have consumed not-being, second revealing beauty, even if it cannot be seen if one has not submitted oneself to refutation. It is, after all, a manifestation of material culture for a philosopher seems to become the incarnation of the region of the forms: if they are to be visible, they are visible in him. He has a grasp of the divine and he possibly manifests it. A sophist, having no grasp of the divine, presents himself as such, but does so to the level of perception of others. Perhaps it is this way: if we study them, we realize that philosophers and sophists are hard to be grasped. A philosopher reveals things, and, by consequence, he is not seen because of the brilliance of the region that is revealed. The sophist produces things, and by consequence is not seen because of the darkness of the region that he produces.

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It’s the first Sunday of lent, and I spend it in traveling from a conference on Greek philosophy. A bit ironic, I would say. It is the Sunday of Orthodoxy, in which people bring icons, to celebrate the faith. Icons that somehow make the Kingdom present. And I talked about the sophist, who instead of making the Kingdom present, that is, allowing it to come to life in him, creates images and presents them as the real Kingdom. The Sophist as a clarification between iconodules and iconoclasts… The iconoclasts rejecting the iconodules because, ironically, they do not accept the possibility of speech. And it really is ironic, for doing so they speak from the realm of non-being.

Isn’t life in dialectic tuning yourself to the music of the ideas? Or perhaps singing like a bird, and so allowing the Song to come to be in your particular voice?

Joyful thought about death

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I have a joyful thought about death lately. I am old, with a long white beard, and I stand next to my grandparents, my parents (both of them old), my wife (never old), and my brothers (old). Some of us have already passed away, others have not, but in this thought we are all together, somehow knowing that we are at the limit of our lives. And we laugh. Not a hysterical laughter. A joyful one, just like the one when Frodo wakes up in the Return of the King. We see each other and laugh. And we see my son and all other young people who are not with us, but somehow still with us, potentially with us, on the path toward being with us, and we laugh. I don’t even know whether we are dead or alive. But still we are with them, and I just know we laugh. No faults, no merits, no sorrows. We laugh.

And I think of God, Abraham, and Isaac having a good laughter together.

This thought always gives me a powerful joy, and the spectrum of death disappears; or death has already passed.