Thursday, January 28, 2016

A new beginning

Another rainy morning in Portlandia. The sun was supposed to rise a little after 7:30 and it’s already light outside as I start my day, but I doubt we will see the actual sun, unless it gives us a brief peek just before sunset as it often does, maybe with a splendid rainbow at the opposite east.

Usual Thursday breakfast. One pan-fried egg doused with ground pepper-corns, two slices of raisin bread toasted and marmaladen, a cup of Greek coffee brewed Balinese style, all finished off with a dollop of blueberry low-fat yogurt. And, best of all, an antique book to read.

In one of my posts I call myself an ancient man and write that ‘I read books.’ Well, this is true, and to take a look around my house you’ll find books tucked away in the most unlikely places—the laundry room, for instance, has a pine shelf bracketed to the wall with a hundred books.

But I’m not actually a book worm. At least, I don’t think so. I like a saying I heard in a film about the author C. S. Lewis, Shadowlands, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ I’ve pondered the saying and wondered if its corollary isn’t, for me, just as true, ‘I write to know I’m not alone.’

This morning, at breakfast, I settled down to read Volume IV ‘Chemistry’ from the set Science History of the Universe, a set of ten volumes published in 1909. I usually read from Volume I ‘Astronomy’, but I think Volume IV ‘Chemistry’ is my other favorite, though every volume startles.

As a child, very early I was attracted to technical toys, everything from maps, electric trains, model airplanes, every building set that was available, but especially chemistry and biology lab sets. I loved the Periodic Chart of the Elements both for its orderliness and the color coded blocks.

Order, systems of meaning, color, and the feel of things, textures, patterns, and a little later, all the complex but logical permutations of sounds made by the human voice—languages: These drew me and held my attention almost exclusively as an infant, a child, a teenager, and a grownup.

I hesitate to call myself an adult, because I don’t want to be called a liar by a good many people. But back to this morning’s reading. The thing I love about this set of ‘science-history’ books is that there is an absolute cut off at 1909, if not earlier. Reading them, you feel you’re living in 1910.

In the ‘Astronomy’ volume, they were still puzzled as to why the sun doesn’t burn out. They were trying to understand what the nebulas exactly were, since the universe consisted only of one galaxy, the Milky Way. They still believed there were canals on Mars and assumed extraterrestrials dug them.

In the ‘Chemistry’ volume, I read this morning the evolution of the Periodic Chart, all the phases it went through, before Mendeleyev finally came up with something close to what we have now. Even in 1909 it wasn’t quite what we have today, because science still didn’t know why it works.

I like these old books because they give us a ‘snap shot’ of another time which, when we read about it in a modern history book, can relay only hard facts, which in reality are almost nothing when compared to what people knew, understood, experienced, felt, and believed, and how it shaped their lives.

The titles of these old books also betray the charming naïveté of that pre-World War era, an innocence which I think was quite genuine, a transparent window into what constitutes unaffected humanity. Another ‘ancient’ author, but one whose works were read until the 1950’s, is Makrakis.

Apostolos Makrakis (1831-1905) was a charismatic Greek Orthodox lay theologian, preacher, ethicist and philosopher who was a leader of the ‘awakening movement’ in post-revolutionary Greece, and arguably one of the most important religious personalities of the 19th century.

He was an extremely prolific writer whose works were translated widely outside of Greece, however his vigorous religious movement eventually turned the Holy Synod against him, resulting in his being condemned and jailed several times. Could it be because he wrote books like this?

The Bible and the World, or God’s Great Book Studied in the Light of His Small Book; Triluminal Science, Surveying the Universe and Explaining Everything, Etc. A third book bound with these two in a single tome, yes, they’re in my library. Books may be dangerous, but their thought endures.

Where is all this thought, my thought, leading to? It’s very true I can have a one-track mind when I want to, and this is one of those times. My reading of an antique science book this morning makes me remember that human knowledge keeps growing, but not human wisdom, nor human happiness.

I think that I could turn back the clock and live in that pre-War world, even with its primitive science and the animated but honest guesswork that drove the learned and pious man and women of that age. Native intelligence, in children, was better nurtured and developed in those days.

We are, in fact, and in spite of all our technological advantages, living less humanly, yes, even less humanely, in a world of wage-slavery and gradual deculturization, inside the ruins of a civilization that reached its apex about a hundred years ago. We’re very close now to a new beginning.

Yes, a new beginning, not a collapse. Of course the collapse has been going on for quite some time, yet it hasn’t killed us. In fact, except for fringe philosophers and theologians who prophesy in unexpected and often unrecognized ways, we’ve all been looking the other way, hoping someone will fix everything, as long as it’s not us.

A new beginning is already seeded. The rain that falls from the Oregon skies is nothing compared to the rain, the hard rain, that is about to fall, a red rain that will restore everyone who goes out into it, stands under it. That rain is about to drench the seeded ground. A rich harvest is about to explode.

Teach your children, young brothers and sisters. I wish there had been someone to teach me when I was that three year old fascinated by the piano, that seven year old in love with science, that eleven year old struggling to learn other alphabets and languages. That high schooler pursuing math like a runner.

Our parents and teachers, themselves bare survivors of terrors we can hardly imagine, tried their best to soften our fall into the world, but instead only made that world harder by their neglect of what is real, what has meaning, what inspires every human soul from infancy to old age, for us, for themselves.

Now it’s your turn. I will not welcome you into ‘the world as it is’ because that is no world at all. I welcome you, and encourage you, saying, ‘the modern world is an interruption of the ancient world’ and it’s in your power to live in that ancient world and recreate it for your children, and your children’s children.

This is not about history per se. Ancient is not about what is over and gone. It is about human freedom and dignity. It is about the therapy of beauty. It is about the resurrection of true knowledge. It is about the love that alone purifies and heals. It is about books, and the Book, regaining the place assigned them.

Again I remind you, as I rehearse to myself each day, ‘Happy the man who reads aloud this prophecy, and happy those who listen to him, if they treasure all that it says, for the Time is close’ (Revelation 1:3). Yes, even the book just quoted. Read, read again, read aloud, to yourselves, to your children. Be a new beginning.

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