I Am a Nobody for Whom Someone Is On a Cross

Tavi's Corner

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…

View original post 606 more words

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Giving definitions and Grushenka’s spring onion

Tavi's Corner

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…

View original post 575 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A drunk holy man

IMG_0358.JPG

Searching for light through thorns. Photo by Andrei.

I once heard a story. I don’t know whether I remember its details correctly, but here is the gist of it: a man goes to a monastery and tells the monks there that he came because an angel told him that a holy man had died in the monastery, and he wanted to pay his respects. But the monks say, “this cannot be true; no holy man has died here.” But the man insisted. “No,” the monks say, “it really cannot be true; the only one who died here for a long time is a drunk; we accepted him in our community, but he could not be a saint; he was drunk almost all day long.”

But the monks, the story goes, did not know that indeed the drunk was a holy man. When he came to the monastery, he used to drink 40 glasses of wine per day, but he was always praying to God to help him with this problem, and by the time he died he was only drinking 20 glasses per day. God saw his effort and blessed him for it.

The story usually brings to surface the lack of understanding that is exhibited in the judgment of another. We do not know his or her battles, problems, or obstacles. But there is one other aspect of it: the drunk was probably seeing himself a sinner; he may have cried over this habit of which he could not escape; he may have asked God’s help in all the days of his life, at times with despair (why can’t I get rid of my drunkenness, o, Lord?), at times with hope (thank you, Lord, for helping me to refuse this glass that is in front of me). But I can’t imagine him feeling entitled, or feeling that he deserves to be called holy. I can’t imagine him considering that he has “progressed” on the way to sainthood. What he had before him was this particular glass of wine, one new battle. Or, as I heard someone say recently, one more occasion to say, “Lord, be with me even if I take this glass.” Or, “Emmanuel.”

 

Posted in Orthodoxy | Leave a comment

Invisible help and protection

Photo Andrei.

At a high school concert. In the row in front of us, a chair was broken. I have bad reputation when it comes to repairing things, but for some reason I could repair the chair. It wasn’t any philosophy, really, since it only took me two seconds. In my wisdom, however, I didn’t check whether it could hold someone. Of course, a high school student sat on it. And the chair seemed to work, but it was a bit wobbly.

My wife and I looked at each other. “Let’s tell her that the seat has problems,” my wife said. But all the other seats were taken, so I just replied, “no; let’s just support it.” So my wife and I placed our legs strongly against the back of the seat in front of us, to make sure that the student would not fall back.

Of course, she was completely oblivious during the entire concert. Moving all the time, speaking with her friends, she had not even one thought about the risk that she was facing and also about the support coming from our legs. When the concert ended, she got up and left.

And I remained wondering about the many “legs” that support my life while I have no awareness of it: direct ones, such as prayers, or indirect ones, such as a peaceful society.

Perhaps the heart of life is indeed eucharistia. For all things.

 

Posted in Orthodoxy, Philosophy | 1 Comment

Some Thoughts on Levinas and Orthodoxy

Tavi's Corner


In the essay on “Judaism and Christianity” from In the Time of the Nations, Levinas recalls a story mentioned by Hannah Arendt. When she was a child, she said one day to the rabbi, “’You know, I have lost my faith.’” And he responded: “Who’s asking you for it?’” Levinas says, “The response was typical. What matters is not ‘faith,’ but ‘doing.’ Doing, which means moral behavior, of course, but also the performance of the ritual. Moreover, are believing and doing different things? What does believing mean? What is faith made of? Words, ideas? Convictions? What do we believe with? With the whole body! With all my bones (Psalm 35:10)! What the rabbi meant was: ‘Doing good is the act of belief itself.’ That is my conclusion” (Levinas 148).

I am positive that you see here the beauty of Levinas’ thoughts. But I think you can also see the…

View original post 1,123 more words

Posted in Orthodoxy, Philosophy | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Temptation of moralism

FullSizeRender(1).jpg

I have often harmed people in my desire to do good. Here is a perhaps familiar  scenario: a friend goes through various problems and confesses them to me. I feel as if I am one with my friend (didn’t Aristotle say that a friend is an alter ego?), but also untouched directly by his problems, so in a sense objective. I perceive that I have the capacity to see the source of his misfortunes. Wishing his well-being, so in the name of the good, I perform a cleansing, just like a doctor would extract the cancer: I expose the disease and tell him what to do to get rid of it. And this gives me joy, because I feel as if I contribute to my friend’s, and by consequence the world’s, well-being. But I soon discover that my friend lies dead next to me, under the heavy blow of my “healing” words, which were perceived by him as just as many hammers.

Is it possible to harm when one’s words come out of love?

Perhaps when love is not perfect. And love is not perfect when it is mine or when I consider that I am the source of it. Can I be the one who heals my brother?

Once, I heard someone say this, “Lord, deliver us from those who want to fix us!”

Terrible thing, really, to want to fix the world or one’s peers–the manifestation of the devil in history.

 

Posted in Orthodoxy, Philosophy | Tagged | 2 Comments

Places of regeneration

FullSizeRender (36).jpg

 

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.” Or “love.”

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Music and Constellations

 

Photo by Tim Lester.

 

There is something about being in a group of people that attempt to make music together. I experience this every week, for two hours. I recently joined Peoria International Choir. Men and women of different ages and from various corners of the world just get together and sing. Some come straight from work, others from whatever problems their lives bring to them. But for those two hours they all focus on something: music.

There are moments when I do not sing, and so I have time to watch their faces. It is just incredible, really, to see a person disappear and be fully present at the same time. Sure, it is still John or Mary, carrying their own problems, but it is also the alto, the soprano, the tenor… And on top of it all, a human being singing with others. At times I think that those two hours of music represent an escape from life, from its busy-ness; in fact, the whole experience is a going toward life, or a recovering of it. Somehow it feels as if we are expressing our humanity by losing ourselves into that which comes out of our being together. People together for and in music (I would say “intru muzica,” in Romanian).

We look different: some with European background, some Asian, others North American, still others South American. We speak different languages at home. But there, for two hours, we speak the same language, music, even if it also has words–English, German, or some other language. It is a beautiful constellation, I would say, and, being so, it reminds me always of how far away I am from participating into its beauty. For none of them can shine to their highest level if I do not offer my witness to music. None of them can fully experience beauty if I do not bring my little light with me.

I once heard that an orchestra is only as good as its weakest member. I think this is wrong. This choir, at least, is much better than its weakest member: me. But there is one more aspect: its goodness and its potentiality for goodness face me with my responsibility. Not a moral responsibility; it is rather a call: “see how beautiful I can be; don’t you love my beauty; don’t you want to witness for it?”

I have not practiced much for the choir, and this can be seen in my “performance.” I always find other “responsibilities” that take priority. But this is because I do not focus on its beauty. Every Tuesday night, when its beauty shines upon me, I wonder about how I could have chosen to do other things instead of practicing. And, while I promise myself it won’t happen again, I then fall again into obliviousness and the busy-ness of life, and a new Tuesday comes without having done much for the choir. It is truly humbling to see all these wonderful people singing around you, welcoming you, bringing forward the song even if you don’t do much for it. And then Masako, our conductor, God bless her heart, suffering from the absence of the music she knows you are capable of providing. Am I not there for them as well?

Peoria International Choir is indeed a beautiful thing, regardless of its weakest member. Go watch them if you have the occasion. As for me, here I am again, thinking about music instead of practicing. To practice!

Posted in Music | 2 Comments

A humble man and a stumbling block

IMG_5877.jpg

A window to one’s soul – at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant.

I once knew a man who went through some radical change. He used to be oblivious, concerned with himself, but then he became peaceful and, with that, you could sense a powerful presence when you were next to him. It felt as if his gaze was so strongly focused on his inner self that he could see through you–paradoxical, I know, but one needs to see one’s shortcomings to be able to fill the emptiness of another.

But still, I also remember that somehow his new being, although it fascinated and attracted me, was a stumbling block. When he was oblivious, I could see his defects, which justified my positive self-image. Now, his presence revealed my own defects and the darkness of my own corner. This bothered me. It was perhaps a sort of envy, but probably much more the inability to deal with my ugliness.

You know, at times I think that the ugliness of one’s soul is the most pernicious thing of human life. The soul is hidden to most, and one can harbor there negative thoughts, envy, or desires that are not visible from the outside. To the others, one may seem a saint, for none of one’s public gestures would say otherwise. However, those hidden things, well covered by the appearance of blessedness, eat slowly at one’s capacity for goodness. But then a man like my friend appears and, by his goodness, reveals to oneself those things that one has even forgotten. And one realizes that he, one’s friend, knows.

It is quite easy to hate a good man, even if he does not do anything. His goodness bothers, for goodness is a light that reveals the dark spots of one’s being.

In Brothers Karamazov, there is one scene that depicts this. A mysterious visitor comes to Fr. Zosima when he was in his youth. The visitor confesses that he had murdered someone. Zosima encourages him to confess, and the visitor leaves having this intention in mind. But that night he returns to Zosima a second time, and the two of them sit in silence. A while later, after he confesses, the visitor has another confession to make. He tells Zosima, “Do you remember that occasion when I came to see you the second time, at midnight? I even asked you specially not to forget it. Do you know why I came back? I came back to kill you!”

He continues: “I walked out that time into the darkness and wandered through the streets, struggling with my inner self. And suddenly I felt such hatred for you that my heart could hardly bear it. ‘He’s the only one,’ I thought, ‘who has me in his clutches and can judge me […]’ And it wasn’t that I was afraid that you’d report me (the idea never occurred to me), but I thought: ‘ow am I going to look him in the eye if I don’t denounce myself?’ And even if you were on the other side of the world, but alive, I would still not be able to abide the thought that you were alive, that you knew everything and were judging me. And I began to hate you, as though you were responsible for everything. […] I simply hated you, and wanted to avenge myself upon you with all my strength. But the Lord overcame the devil in my heart. I tell you, though, you had never been closer to death.'”

There is much danger for the good people of this world. I do not know whether they know who we are, but, faced with them, we know who we are. And it hurts. May they always be protected.

 

Posted in Dostoevsky, Orthodoxy, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Giving voice to those who had none

 

FullSizeRender (35).jpg

Today, Mrs. Magda Brown, Holocaust survivor, spoke at Methodist College.  I will not say many things about Mrs. Brown’s life. You can see her here, in one of her previous visits at Methodist College, or read about her on her website. But I will share with you some thoughts about my encounter with her because I think it will say something about who Mrs. Brown is.

I met her for the first time almost four years ago. She was a guest speaker for one of my classes taught at Methodist College, Suffering and Forgiveness. We discuss in that class two traumatic historical events: the Holocaust and the communist persecution. Mrs. Brown was my guest and my senior. Both were reasons for me to take care of her. However, just a few moments after we met, I realized that I was the one who received care. I felt as if I had known her forever and that, somehow, she was my grandma. Sure enough, anytime we communicated after this event, she was ending her emails with, and I quote, “lots of grandma hugs.”

I think this says much about Mrs. Brown. She is a human being out of whom life was supposed to be taken out. She is a human being who was separated from her dear ones, who were sent to death in gas chambers. She is a human being who was treated by others as if she had no human dignity. However, when you meet Mrs. Brown you encounter life. It is a life of a human who lives in connection with others and who defines herself in offering her presence and care to others. It is in this way that she expresses the highest dignity of a human being, which can never be taken away by any violence that may temporarily attempt to destroy us. The darkest of dungeons becomes light and beauty when one takes care of another. Mrs. Brown is in this way a birthgiver of beauty in that she is the expression of what it is to be a human being: taking care of another.

We were in a health sciences college this evening, where people study to become caretakers, to offer their skills and their presence to cure others. I mention this because Mrs. Brown herself worked as a medical assistant. But by her life and her talks Mrs. Brown cures more than the body. She takes care of our historical wounds, because this past is part of us regardless of whether we have been there or not. And she does this by giving voice to those who had no voice.

I believe that the energy Mrs. Brown has comes from this: from her dedication to goodness. Today, in our midst, through her stories, she gave voice and life to those who had none.

Posted in Holocaust | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment