Friday 31 May 2013

Interreligious dialogue

For interreligious dialogue:

Augustine writing The City of God with the Vandals at the gates of his city, and with the breakdown of imperial Rome. His conviction that God works and continues working in and through the vicissitudes of history.

Abu Ghosh: the importance of leisure and language.

Patwardhan in Nashik: the importance of basic information. Though even this sharing of information is governed and filtered by horizons.

Tea and dialogue, or, here in Jerusalem, perhaps coffee and dialogue.

The importance of even simple meetings.

Dialogue, evangelization, and testimony

Another question that came up in the BTh defences was that of evangelization and dialogue: what is the relationship between the two? As far as I remember, it was Evangelii Nuntiandi that stated that dialogue was part of evangelization. And I think it was John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio who insisted that this did not do away with the need for proclamation. I recalled the lovely insight of Panikkar, great advocate of dialogue: at some point, the dialogue breaks down, or perhaps the witness irrupts, one witnesses to something that is beyond, something that is (not yet) shared.... And I think that really is proclamation. I bear witness. Testimony: a testis, a third, speaks in and through me. 

Interreligious dialogue and the gift of the Spirit

In several of the BTh defences, there was mention of seeds of the word (logos spermatikoi), from Justin Martyr, in the context of inter-religious dialogue and theology of religions. No one seemed to have mentioned Lonergan's suggestion that it is the gift of the Spirit that is the common basis for ecumenical dialogue, and perhaps also, if the gift of God's love is offered to all, for interreligious dialogue.

Of course, the other interesting question - asked by Gianni Caputa - was: where do you find the seeds of the word? 

Monday 27 May 2013

Things rightly created but wrongly desired

I've been reading the Office for over 25 years now, and only this morning I was struck by this comment of Gregory the Great on the book of Job:
‘I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil.’
‘I form the light and create darkness’: for when the darkness of pain is created by blows received from outside ourselves, the light of the mind is kindled by instruction within.
‘I make peace and create evil’: for peace with God is restored to us when the things which, rightly created but wrongly desired, turn into the kind of scourges that we regard as ‘evil’. We have grown at variance with God through sin. Therefore it is fitting that we should be brought back to peace with him by the scourge, so that as every being, created good, turns to pain for us, so the mind of chastened man may, in a humbled state, be made new in peace with the creator. [From the commentary of Pope St Gregory the Great on the book of Job. Bk 3, 15-16. The Divine Office (London: Collins, 1974) 3:113-14.]
Job's suffering is the suffering of the innocent. But Gregory seems to be talking about the suffering of one who is not quite innocent, for he speaks of wrongly desiring things that good in themselves. What is significant is that these good things turn into "the kind of scourges that we regard as 'evil'," and then, unexpectedly, "peace with God is restored to us." Is this something automatic? Or should we pay attention also to what Gregory says subsequently: that in times of affliction, even though this is not quite natural and spontaneous, we should make an effort to count our blessings?
And he who is bruised by scourges and yet, in the season of scourging neglects to comfort himself with the gifts which it has been his lot to receive, is thrown out of his steadfastness of mind by despair on every hand.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Not because we understand

Street in Rome
Conversation on a tram in Rome between a Pakistani young man and a Salesian priest:
Hello, how are you! Are you from India?
Yes, I am. And you, are you from Pakistan?
Yes, I am a Pakistani. What are you doing in Rome?
I am a Catholic priest, I am studying here.
And what do you do as a priest?
I belong to a society that works for young people who are poor and in difficulty.
You are a wonderful young man, but I am sorry for you.
Why? Why are you sorry for me?
Because you are going to go to hell.
That was the first time I had ever had this kind of interreligious dialogue. I was a bit shocked. The conversation continued.
Why? Why do you think I am going to go to hell?
Because you believe all these dirty things about God. That God has a son. Do you think God has a wife? 
I understood then the problem. I understand now that this is the standard Muslim objection to Christianity. It is as old as the Kor'an. So I went on:
I think you are going to hell.
Then it was his turn to be surprised. Probably no one had ever told him that he would be going to hell. So he asked, quite shocked:
Do you believe God is great? Allahu akbar?
Of course.
Do you believe then that he will be greater than our human mind, much greater than anything we can understand?
Of course.
Well, we believe that God is three, and that yet he is One. We believe not because we understand, but because we have been told. What the scripture says, we must believe. 
He was silent. He did not know what to say. He took my address and said he would contact me.

A very different type of inter-religious dialogue! But not disrespectful, I think.

We believe, not because we understand, but because we have been told. If we had not been told, we would never have dared to confess: I believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, One God. (That is how Arabic-speaking Christians, and probably also Hebrew-speaking Christians, here in the Holy Land say the Sign of the Cross: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Though I think some of them say Allah instead of Father, I do not quite know why.)

St Augustine suggested and St Thomas developed what is called the 'psychological analogy' in an effort to attain a "limited yet most fruitful understanding" of the mystery. But John Paul II, according to some, has proposed a new analogy, an analogy from love. And I think it is something well worth considering in our effort to talk about the Trinity. When a man joins a woman in love, they become one without losing their twoness. And that is why marriage is a sacrament: it is a revelation of the love that is God, where there are three and yet one. And that is the vocation of the human race: to be one without  losing our diversity. And to be one with God, without losing our identity. Is that not the true direction of non-dualism?

Saturday 25 May 2013


"Another thing: pay no attention to telltales; you may hear that your servant has reviled you; your own heart knows how often you have reviled others." (Eccles 7:21-22) 


Yet the almond tree is in flower,
the grasshopper is heavy with food
and the caper bush bears its fruit. (Eccles 12:5)

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Divyadaan Journal of Philosophy and Education 24/1 (2013)

The latest issue of Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education (vol. 24/1 of 2013) has just come in. A nice set of articles, with a 'Jerusalem flavour' this time: Agostino Guccione's "The Mimetic Theory of Rene Girard," and Jean-Marie Amalebondra's "At the School of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd: The Qu'ran and Contemporary Hermeneutic Theories." Guccione used to teach Hebrew and Italian at STS, and Amalebondra is one of our students from the Missionaries of Africa. Besides, there is a review of Giuseppe Abba's Costituzione epistemica della filosofia morale, by Biju Michael, and another of Relating We Journey: An Interdisciplinary Exploration, ed. J. Kuttianimattathil (the Festschrift for Dominic Veliath) by Edoardo Gnocchini, another one of our students, and Banzelao Teixeira.

The other articles are interesting too: the first part of Michael Shute's contribution on implementing Lonergan's method, and the first part of Dolreich Pereira's piece on the Summa Contra Gentiles, which he suggests is a Summa for the Gentiles, and asks who these gentiles might have been, for whom Aquinas wrote, or about whom he wrote.

Then of course there is yet another part of the Samkhya chapter of De Smet's Guidelines in Indian Philosophy.

And among the other reviews, one by Banzelao Teixeira of the latest 'edition' or reproduction of Thomas Stephens' Arte da lingoa Canarim as updated by Diogo Ribeiro and co, and another by Albert Kumar and myself of a book on Kant's ethics by Shibin Thuniampral, itself based on a thesis done under Saju Chackalackal at Dharmaram. A new fillip to Kantian studies in India, thanks to Prof. Chackalackal.  

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Bethlehem shawarma

A trip to Bethlehem this morning. We took bus 21 from Damascus Gate, for NIS 7.30 each, went through the Cremisan tunnel and up into Bet Jala, getting off finally on the road dividing Bethlehem and Bet Jala. Giuseppe's shawarma place is just two minutes down from the bus stop. A very 'local' place, meaning not touristic. A do-it-yourself shawarma in either a wrap of 'Arabic bread' (rumali roti, really) or a baguette, plus a soft drink thrown in, all for NIS 16.

Warding off the many taxis with our few words of Arabic, we wandered up into the old city, such a different world, with its narrow streets and colourful vendors, and into the Nativity. We were lucky to find absolutely no one at the Grotto for a few blessed minutes. Then into St Catherine's, and to the Milk Grotto via a street full of olive wood souvenir shops. It was probably the last trip to Bethlehem for my two fourth year companions, and probably also quite emotional for people who have spent four years here and have loved the land and its people.

Then finally to a very sweet Palestinian sweet treat, called nablis or something: sugar and lots of goat cheese. And then back into 21, with a rather full bus, probably because of some World Council of Churches meeting that seems to be going on. 

A small experience of Pentecost

The Upper Room from the outside

A Pentecostal group!

The Upper Room

This morning I managed to finish an article on Truth for Live Encounters, and then thought, quite uncharacteristically, that I would take a break, go over to the Cenacle and remember Pentecost and spend some time in prayer. So I walk over to the Cenacle, and who do I find there but Fr Francis Gustillo and his group of pilgrims from Manila... Delightful, because yesterday, after the confessions, they had to rush off and I did not have the chance to wish them off. Then I wandered outside a bit, went to the terrace of the Upper Room, took some photos of the rooftops and of Dormitio, and then came back again inside, hoping to pray. I sat on one of the benches, and then a group of French pilgrims seemed to need the benches, so I shifted over to the back of the room, when some Indian looking people came in. And then I heard tongues: Marathi! The gang came and sat down, one of them close to me. So I said: Marathi mansa kay? And the 'lady' turns to me and says: Father! It turned out to be Sr Colette fma from the Mumbai province.
So Colette gets all excited, and we talk in Marathi, of all places up there in the Upper Room, and we meet Fr Peter Serrao who is with them, and then we plan to meet up for supper in Ratisbonne. So that's what we did, thanks to Fr Victor's kindness, picking them up from Bet Sahour, from a charming hotel called Golden Park, and picking up Sr Priscilla, and having dinner and joining the community for rosary, and then dropping them back, almost reaching Hebron and Egypt in the dark, but then Victor simply knows all the ways, and finding our way back to Golden Park.
Very strange. I simply never go out walking during the morning hours, and today I did just that, not having the courage to get back to the Experience article. To think that I should meet Gustillo and co. and then Collette ... unbelievable. A small experience of Pentecost.

Monday 20 May 2013

Santa Cruzan and Flores de Mayo

Constantine and Reyna Elena

Another pair...

And yet another...
Extremely colourful and joyful...
The more I look at these photos, the more I love the event.
God bless all our communities and all those who help out. 

Friday 17 May 2013

Islam and Christianity

Anastasios of Sinai thought it appropriate to consider Islam as a kind of Christian heresy, for having spoken of the false notions of the Arabs, he goes on to say: "Likewise, in regard to the rest of the heresies, it is necessary first to condemn however many false opinions about the faith they have." (Sidney H. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008] 30-31.)

St John Damascene's (d. 749/764) Pege Gnoseos or The Fount of Knowledge was written in Greek, perhaps as a monk of the Mar Sabas monastery in the Judean desert, in the first half of the eighth century, the years of burgeoning Islamic scholarship. Most Christian scholars have taken his work to represent the last of the patristic era in the East, and to have been addressed to a largely monastic audience with eyes and hearts turned towards Constantinople in Byzantium. But John never lived in Byzantium, and his works (other than those on veneration of icons) made no impression there until some centuries after his lifetime. In fact, John - known as Mansur ibn Sarjun in the Arabic-speaking world - lived all his life among Muslims, and he knew and wrote also in Arabic, though all his surviving writings are in Greek, the theological and liturgical language of the Melkite Christian community, whose chief spokesperson he was to become. His literary output fits perfectly into the scheme of the issues among Melkites, Jacobites and Nestorians in the milieu of Islam.

John presented his The Fount of Knowledge as a compendium of the teachings of the fathers. It is divided into three parts: definitions of philosophical terms used in the formulation of Christian doctrinal statements; a list and description of the principal Chrisitan heresies; and a systematic presentation of Christian dogma according to the teachings of the six councils of Byzantine orthodoxy.

The last of the one hundred heresies John discusses is "the heresy of the Ishmaelites." For John, and for other Christian writers of his day, the Ishmaelites were the Arab descendants of the biblical Hagar. John applies this name to the Muslims. He speaks of the prophet as one who, "having happened upon the Old and New Testament, likewise having probably been in conversation with an Arian monk, contrived his own heresy." His use of the word 'heresy' here amounts to an admission that the Muslims share the same world of discourse with the Christians. In fact, John's response to the challenge of Islam was not confined to this mention. It must be considered to have been a motivating factor behind his whole conception of The Fount of Knowledge. (Griffith 41-42)

I remember Griffith saying that Muhammad's first wife, Khadija, was a Christian, and that her uncle was an Ebionite bishop. Ebionism, if I remember right, is a close relative of Arianism: there cannot be two Gods, so Christ cannot be God. Simple. And that - is illumining for the connection between Christianity and Islam! But I just can't find the reference in Griffith. 

Simply delightful...

Of stones and flowers.... And I wish I had the camera with me this morning, as I walked through Mahane Yehuda, the Hebrew Market. Utterly colourful on Friday mornings, as people do their shopping for Shabbath. The Jews have extremely strict rules about everything, including and especially food, but I must say they celebrate food, and colour, and all that's good.

Wednesday 15 May 2013


New Hebrew word, courtesy Ha'Aretz via Aurelio: yok.
Good for G. Phiri, because one of the meanings is "no way."
With a long history, dating back to Ottoman times and having to do with, well, Malta.

Here's the piece:
Word of the Day / Yok
A handy term to cut someone short may have gotten its start
with the hapless Ottoman navy.

By Ruth Schuster | May.13, 2013 | 12:04 PM | HaAretz online
You're just starting to learn some basic street Hebrew and feel all warm and fuzzy for
realizing that "nudnik" in Hebrew really does mean nudnik. You share your delight at your
budding linguistic talent with some Israeli sitting next to you on the bus, and he mutters:
"You spik Hebrew? Yok."
"Yuck?" you wonder, hurt. "Why would he say that?"
But he didn't. He said yok, so you might as well nurse your grievance. The word has a
variety of meanings:
Sarcastically – "No way." (You? Learn Hebrew? Sure you will.)
Straightforwardly – "Nope." ("Did you find that rare trilobite you wanted at the fossil
exhibition, Dad?" "Yok.")
Straightforwardly II – "It'll never happen." ("Can you go out skipping in the flower-studded hills of spring and spot a wild boar?" I asked a tour guide. "Yok.")
Unhelpfully – "There's no such thing," even when it's staring you right in the face. ("Honey, a wild boar just shrank the kids." "I didn't see it." "It was standing on your chest." "Yok.")
Translated into Yiddish – gurnisht.
Where did it come from? One theory is that yok originated, of all places, in the Ottoman
Empire, whose armada failed to conquer the doughty island of Malta. This was 1565, or
1645 according to other accounts, but in any case well before satellite imaging technology, which would have shown the island very clearly.
One version says the map got dirty and the island disappeared on it. Another is that the
admirals took a stab but failed. Whatever the case, the admirals reportedly sent a message
back to Sultan Ibrahim: "Malta yok." Meaning "Malta isn't there." No Malta, no problem.
... that's George Phiri, not 'yok'


It's Shavuot in Jerusalem. I went for mass to the St Joseph's sisters on Rehov Ha-Nevi'im, and then, as usual, walked around a bit, in the direction of Mahane Yehuda, and, since the market was closed, through some of the delightful alleys of what I later learnt was the Nahala'ot Quarter. This seems to be one of the old quarters of the new city, and from the pictures and notices on the walls, a Sephardic quarter. There were of course many people returning from the Wall on the streets, and a few also in the Quarter itself. I wished some Hag Sameach - I was in Roman collar - and several wished back. One who looked unwell spat out, but he was on the other side of the road. The skies are overcast, and I find the weather wonderfully depressing. And I realized I have no idea what Shavuot is all about. Sr Catherine says it is about Ruth. It is - the Book of Ruth is read at this feast, perhaps because of Ruth doing the gleaning after the harvest. But, more importantly, it celebrates the giving of the Law, the Torah, 50 days after Pesach.

And for us, Pentecost - the giving of the New Law, the Law of the Spirit, the Law written on our hearts. The Spirit gives us, in fact, new hearts, hearts of flesh to replace the heart of stone. Stones again!

Monday 13 May 2013

Mirto and mirtillo

Gianni pointed out to me mirto plants in the shrubbery outside the Jerusalem Municipal Offices. Mirto is myrtle in English, and is used to make the mirto liqueur of Sardinia. It is not the same as mirtillo, which translates as blueberry in English. The gardens of Jerusalem tend to be abundant on herbs: lavender (lavanda), myrtle, rosemary (rosemarino), mint (menta), and so on. The monks and nuns of Deir Rafat make a wonderful ointment called lavandula, most effective for bodyaches and muscle pulls.

The nespolo instead is translated as loquat. Very common in Italy, but also around here: we have several trees in our garden. 

Sunday 12 May 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven

Just watched a part of Kingdom of Heaven. I had seen it some years ago, but that was before Jerusalem. The movies makes much more sense now, here. The last time I was sharply conscious of its New Age script. This time round, the proximity of the Land took over. I just discovered that Ibelin, Balian's domain, is nowhere near Kerak. It is quite nearby, actually: it is Yavne, Iamnia, Jamnia, in between Jaffa and Ashkelon. And Kerak, of course, is what we missed last year in our Jordan trip: Reynald de Chatillon's Kerak.

There was a real Balian, but he was not the illegitimate son of Godfrey of Ibelin as depicted in the film.  Though this Balian lost Ibelin to Saladin, just like the Balian of the movie, he would seem to have given rise to a long line of illustrious and noble descendants.

I must admit that I quite enjoyed the movie this time. Eva Green is extraordinary as Sybilla, Guy de Lusignan's wife and the sister of King Baldwin the Leper, though Orlando Bloom is quite wooden as the Wikipedia source says, I think. And the script is quite good, despite its clearly New Age leanings. I have no problem with compassion and goodness, and only admiration for the conscience that Balian chooses to obey over political expediency and even romantic interest and love. The problem always is: is that the way? To be truly Christian: to submit to the combination of love and truth that Jesus is: that is the problem. Making Christianity, and most especially Catholicism, the most atrocious of religions, the one that most tests all standards of merely human rationality. 

Saturday 11 May 2013


Giuseppe was saying that during his university formation, one of the professors, who was in the high management of Alitalia in Rome, used to talk about 'bilancio delle competenze.' When you are selecting people for your company, learn to distinguish between skills that can be taught to a person, and basic qualities that cannot be imparted if the person does not have them. What is really important is to learn to spot the latter: does this person have the basic qualities that are in harmony with the basic values of my organization? Or: do the basic qualities and values and convictions of this person match the basic values of my organization?

Very useful to keep in mind for 'specific vocations,' vocations to the Salesian life, for example. Which also means that our 'vocation promoters' must be people with a certain experience and competence - perhaps ex-novice masters and ex-provincials. Or, better still, 'vocation promotion' can no more be what it used to be and still is in provinces like ours. It is not a question of 'recruiting,' picking up people from here and there. One of our confreres was telling me that in his province, a young man has to be in weekly contact with a salesian community and in ongoing spiritual direction before he even steps into a salesian community as a resident. That stepping into involves a full year; only then comes the pre-novitiate, and so on. I think this is good. Intake is the best place for hard decisions. Experience shows that it is extremely difficult and often even traumatic to have to 'send away' a young person in later years. Of course we are seeking the will of God; but precisely those that have difficulty migrating to that kind of level will be the ones who need to be told to knock elsewhere, or else that they are simply not yet ready... 

Friday 10 May 2013

Ascension, not space travel

The other day I had a visit from Phil Berryman, Angie and Barbara. They gave me a glimpse of another part of the church in North America, quite different from what I hear about in my own community. They reported much discouragement and anger among Catholics, and many departures. I asked at one point: what kind of church would you like to see? And Angie replied: a church that is loving and compassionate, human and welcoming; not a church that is so utterly judgmental. I agreed wholeheartedly. But, preparing my homily for the feast of the Ascension, I thought to myself: I would add a good dose of joy and of hope.

The Ascension is about joy and hope. In Jn 14:28 we find Jesus saying: If you loved me, you would rejoice because I go to the Father. In Lk 24:52, in fact, Jesus ascends on the Mount of Olives, and the disciples, instead of being sorrowful, return to Jerusalem "with great joy." And then there is the mysterious passage in Jn 20:17: do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. 

All these texts call us to a purification of our understanding of the Ascension. The Ascension is not space travel. It is a new presence of Jesus. For the first time I noticed the cloud mentioned in Acts 1:??, something that is not mentioned in Lk. And then I found Ratzinger - Benedict XVI explaining that the cloud here is once again, as in the accounts of the Transfiguration, a sign of the glory of God, the Shekinah. Jesus enters fully the mystery and the glory of God. This is not space travel: it is dominion over space. The risen and ascended Jesus is no longer bound by constraints of space and time: he is everywhere, at all times. He is here with us, he is now with us. And so it is not surprising that the disciples are said to return to the city with great joy. Augustine is particularly good on this point in the assigned reading in the Office for the Ascension. 

So he is present with us, and now that he is ascended, now that he sits at the right hand of the Father, we can cling to his feet. 

"If anyone loves me, and keeps my word, my Father will love him, and my Father and I will come and make our home with him." Again that lovely word, home. Jesus is at home with his Father. We are at home with Jesus and his Father if we love him and keep his word. Jesus and the Father make their home with us, or, as another translation has it: they make a room in our house. Just like Jesus made a room for himself in the house of Simon Peter in Capharnaum. 

Joy, cloud, feet, home: four words that can keep echoing in our hearts as we live through the Paschal Mystery. 

Friday 3 May 2013


And finally, a final word from Vernet, on the final excursion of the year:
Wonder is the capacity for surprise, a sense of astonishment, of admiration, of beauty.
It is the capacity for being impressed, a breath of the spirit.
“If you don’t wonder at anything, you are already an old man.” (Plato)
Wonder is the capacity for newness and change.
A spirit open to wonder clothes the entire universe with newness.
A spirit open to wonder possess eternal youth and splendor of spirit, that is a miracle of the human heart discovering behind the marvels of the universe the beauty and goodness of the Creator.
Jesus had a deep sense of wonder.
Wonder is a source of joy, of satisfaction of happiness, of sharing beautiful things, that can last time and time again and make many others happy.
“I thank God for having made me able to enjoy beauty in such a marvelous manner.” (Gustave Flaubert after a journey on the Nile) 
Vernet's gentle way of making a gentle point. 


Next the hyssop, also sometimes known as thyme, better known to us by its Arabic name, zatar; in Hebrew EZOV. The hyssop, Miryam explained, was a symbol of humility, while the cedar was a symbol of pride. Solomon the Wise knew all plants, from the cedar of Lebanon to the humble hyssop. Jesus on the cross was given vinegar to drink on a sprig of hyssop. And when someone was afflicted with leprosy, it was considered a punishment for the sin of pride. When the person was cured, he had to make a sacrifice and carry a sprig of hyssop and a branch of the cedar, to symbolize his cure from pride and his coversion to humility. And David after his sin with Bathsheba prays: cleanse me with hyssop. The cedar is proud. It needs 70 years to reach maturity, and then it gives only wood. The hyssop grows anywhere, and easily; it is food, it is also medicine. The message is that appearances are not everything. God does not see the exterior; he sees the heart.

Shoot of Jesse

The next stop was at an olive tree that had been completely cut down, but that had sent up shoots from its roots. There was a board with a quotation from Is 11:1. The shoot from the root has nothing to do with gangster or thriller movies. It is just that the olive tree never dies. And the Lord promises a shoot from the stem of Jesse: the Messiah. The shoot is NEZER, and so there is a connection also with Nazareth, and Jesus of Nazareth, and Christians who are called Nozrim, those from Nazareth. 

Oil press

The next visit was to an oil press. Miryam explained that olives turn red and then black as they mature, and that the best oil is from red olives. The huge oil press before us was for the production of oil on a commercial scale. Human beings must have first discovered that ripe olives released oil. This might have led someone to collect a bit of this oil, and then to the invention of the oil lamp. This was, surprisingly, the first use to which olive oil was put. Eventually it was used for food. The oil press is called BEIT BAD in Hebrew – the house of the Big Log, because of the log used to press out oil from the crushed olives. The crushing was done on a stone and by hand for small domestic quantities, but in a large press, with a heavy stone being pushed around, for commercial quantities. The large stone was for crushing also the seeds, not because the seeds contain oil, but because they contain a substance with preservative properties. This was new to us. The crushed material was then put into baskets, and several baskets were piled under the Big Log, which was weighed down by stones – we see much the same thing still being done by our cashew crushers and feni makers in Goa.

The first pressing releases virgin olive oil, though some people say that virgin oil is what spontaneously comes out of the baskts even before pressing. At any rate, this is the cold press method. The virgin oil was used for the Menorah in the Temple.

Olive oil is used also for anointing, from which the work MESCHIACH and in Greek Christos. If Israel used to be famous for Jaffa oranges, it is now famous for olive oil. In fact, the symbol of Israel is the Olive Tree: the orange originates in China and came to the Middle East through India.

The olive is also a symbol of peace: the dove brought back a branch of an olive tree to Noah. Why would it bring an olive branch and not a date palm leaf? Because the olive tree is much smaller, and would indicate better the receding of the waters. Also because the dove – and anyone – would rather eat bitter fruit in freedom than sweet [date] fruit in captivity. So the olive is also a symbol of freedom.

The Menorah is mentioned in Zechariah. “Not by might, not by force, but by the Spirit.” The Menorah is not so much for giving light; it represents the Spirit. It may be seen on Titus’ Arch in the Roman Forum, where the Jewish slaves are shown carrying it, a sign therefore of humiliation. The only time the Romans minted a coin commemorating the defeat of a people was upon the capitulation of Judea: Judea Capta. The State of Israel turned the Menorah into a symbol of victory, and coined a medallion depicting a man carrying a baby and a woman planting a tree: Judea Liberata. During the compulsory military training, the young people are given a rifle and a bible, and they are read this verse from Zechariah: Not by might, not by force, but by the Spirit.” Emanuele De Maria made a connection with Don Bosco’s dream at the age of 9: “not by blows, but with kindness will you gain them.”

Water is life: maim khayim

One of our  stops was at a cistern. Cisterns, we learned, had to be maintained every year: the plaster had to be done up every year, otherwise the water would leak away. BOR MAIM.

Miryam showed us the parchment that is placed inside the mezuzah and the tefillin: the writing is from Deut 11:10-14 (not Deut 6). This land is not like Egypt, where you would irrigate the land with your foot (making way for the water to flow, the water being in abundance because of the Nile). Here you will drink water from heaven – which means, you will depend on the rain. The only thing you can do therefore is to obey, and pray that the rain comes in due season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, the first rain (YOREH) and the last rain (MALKOSH).

British children sing:

“Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day”

But Israeli children sing:

"Come, come cloud
Bring us the rain."

And Indian children sing:

"Ye re ye re pausa
Tula deto paisa
Paus ala motha
Paisa zhala khota."

The whole question of rain is delicate. In April, the wheat needs one more rain if it is to grow big and strong, but at the same time the olive is just flowering, and strong rain can destroy the crop. So the growing of the 7 species depends completely on proper rain, on the blessing of the Lord. The almond instead does not depend on the rain: it will flower even in a drought year.

Heaven in Hebrew is SHA-MAIM: water is there. There is a strong relationship between the people and God, because they depend completely on God for water.

Jeremiah speaks of broken cisterns. They have abandoned me, the spring of living water, for leaky cisterns.

When there was no water, cisterns were used as prisons, as we see in the case of Jeremiah himself, and of Joseph, and of Jesus, who was probably imprisoned in the house of Caiaphas (see now the church of Gallicantu).

The book of Daniel, in its Septuagint version, has the Canticle of the Three Young Men, and the first creature to be invited to praise God are the clouds!

MAIM KHAYIM – water is life. See Jn 7:37-38, which takes places at the Feast of Sukkoth, at the end of summer, when there is hardly any water in the cisterns. Jesus says: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! Springs of living water will flow from my heart.  Water is Life!

At the end of summer, the water in the cisterns becomes smelly and dirty. That is why it was mixed with wine: wine was a disinfectant. That is why also so many winepresses are found around cisterns. In the NT: “Drink a little wine with your water, it is good for your stomach.” In Hebrew, “pouring water” is LIM ZOG, which literally means mix the water with wine.

And then there is LEHAIM! When we cheer with wine, we say: To Life! Water / wine is life.


Watchtower (shomerah)
Winepress (gat)

Next we visited a winepress carved into the rock. The winepress is GAT, but GAT-SHEMANI (Gethsemane) is an oil press. Near by was a SHOMERAH or watch tower, from SHOMER, to watch. The tower was built to watch over vineyards during the fruit season. People slept on the terrace of the tower, which seemed quite comfortable and attractive.

5 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
    neither pruned nor cultivated,
    and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
    not to rain on it.” (Is 5:1-6)

The arba minim or Four Species for Sukkot

Etrog (citron)

From Wadi Natuf and the mixed forest we moved next to the cultivated area. Here one of the first things we saw was a Citron tree, an ETROG tree. The Etrog is one of the fruits used in the feast of Sukkoth. The etrog is an all year fruit. Four kinds of vegetation are used in this feast:
Etrog (citron): good fruit, good scent
Lulav (palm): good fruit, no scent
Hadassim (myrtle): strong scent, no fruit or taste
Aravot (willow): neither scent nor taste
These represent the four kinds of persons:
Those with good deeds as well as knowledge
Those with good deeds, but no knowledge
Those with no good deeds, but with knowledge
Those with neither good deeds nor knowledge.
All four types of people are needed; and so all four types of plants are represented at the feast of Sukkoth.

Noga Hareuveni and the Neot Kedumim project

The Green Line

Noga's mixed forest, 'flowing with milk and honey'

The date palms are an attempt to recreate the Transjordanian environment, with the Wadi as the 'Jordan'
Neot Kedumim was begun in 1964. Before the 1967 War, the borders were different. There was a narrow corridor, the Jerusalem corridor, running between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Green Line or border with Jordan passed very close by to the shelter under which we were sitting, marked now by a swatch of pines. What is now Neot Kedumim used to be No Man’s Land. Noga Hareuveni, the founder, wanted people to see the text of the bible in its context. He obtained 600 acres of this No Man’s Land from the government at no cost, and established NK here.

Empires tend to take what they can, especially from conquered territories, sometimes without replenishing. The last empire, the Ottoman, had ruled for 400 years, and in the years of decline they cut the last of the forests in order to find timber for the new railroad from Egypt to Syria. Miryam said that she had an Arab Israeli colleague whose father had to cut down his last olive trees in order to meet his quota of wood to the Ottoman government. This is one of the reasons for deforestation and desertification. The other reason was goats who eat even the roots of plants. So we can still see man-made deserts not far from NK. But in the time of the prophets, in the time of Jesus, we can see from the parables they used that the situation used to be quite different.

The Pentateuch speaks of the Promised Land as a land flowing with milk and honey. Is this a reference to cultivated land? Miryam said that it was not. In the story of the spies, we hear them reporting that there were giants who devoured the people of the land, and then, immediately after, they speak of the land flowing with milk and honey. According to Noga, the spies, coming as they were from desert to forest, probably took the trees and their shadows for giants, and the presence of lions and bears might explain the reference to “devouring its people.” At any rate, there was grazing land for cattle and plenty of trees and flowers for the production of honey. The reference therefore was to forest land, not pine forest land, but natural mixed forest, which is what Noga tried to recreate in NK. It was the Zionists who came from Europe that thought of planting pines, because that was the only type of tree they were familiar with. But pines are acidic, and do not allow vegetation to flourish around them, and certainly do no provide an environment for milk and honey. Noga reversed this wisdom: he planted local trees, like oak (ALON) and terebinth (ELAH), and created mixed forests.

The Watchful Tree (shaked - almond)

Our guide was a lovely Jewish lady of Persian origin, with the beautiful name of Miryam. Our first stop was at a pomegranate tree – RIMMON in Hebrew. The next was an almond tree. The almond is called SHAKED in Hebrew. Miryam explained that Ben Yehuda used to invent nouns from verb roots. In the case of shaked, the root was SKD (shin – kuf – dalet), and it means the hard-working tree. Jer 1:11 speaks of the wakeful or watchful tree.

11 The word of Yahweh came to me, asking, 'Jeremiah, what do you see?' I answered, 'I see a branch of the Watchful Tree.'
12 Then Yahweh said, 'Well seen, for I am watching over my word to perform it.' (Jer 1:11)

The Seven Species

Rimmon (pomegranate)

Geten (vine)

Did you know about the Seven Species (SHIVAT AMINIM) mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8? KHITAH (wheat), SEORAH (barley), GETEN (vine), TE’ENAH (fig), RIMMON (pomegranate), ZAIT (olive) and DVASH (date honey). Date honey is (also?) known as SILAN; the date fruit itself is TAMAR, and the palm is DEKEL TAMAR. Tamar is just tree in Arabic, I think, from where we get our Tamar-e-Hind or Tamarind.

Three foods are mentioned often together in the bible: DAGAN (cereal, either wheat or barley), TIROSH (wine), and ITZHAR (olive oil). This was the staple food of the people. These were the offerings made in the Temple, and these are the foods used in the Sabbath meal.

Neot Kedumim

Overlooking Wadi Natuf

Wadi Natuf. The line of pines marks the erstwhile Green Line or border with Jordan

Miryam showing an etrog (citron), with the zizyphus or atad in the background
Archaeological Excursion  the last of the year. We left at 0745 hrs for Neot Kedumim, which is in the vicinity of Modi’in, taking the Bet Horon road. We were there in about an hour. Thanks to Soher’s arrangements, the ticket office people were expecting us, and gave us a good discount: we paid NIS 1,110.00 for 37 people. In the company of a wonderful guide called Miryam, we were taken on a tour: Wadi Natuf, home of the ‘Natufian culture’ with its invention of agriculture and agricultural tools; the mixed forests of local varieties of trees (oak or alon, and terebinth or elah) replacing the pine forests planted by the early Zionists; the area of the Seven Species (SHIVAT AMINIM) mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8: KHITAH (wheat), SEORAH (barley), GETEN (vine), TE’ENAH (fig), RIMMON (pomegranate), ZAIT (olive) and DVASH (date honey); a vineyard with wine press and watchtower; an oil press; a cistern; and, finally, wild hyssop, where Miryam encouraged everyone to actually pound hyssop into zatar and take it home. 

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Abbot Gregory and the Jesuits

Abbot Gregory Collins of Dormitio, Irish abbot presiding over a German-speaking Benedictine monastery, and great admirer of Ignatius and the Jesuits as far as the discernment process is concerned. He was telling me just now, during our break, that there is no one quite as practical as Ignatius when it comes to finding out what God wants you to do. I suggested that he share something about this with us when he comes to preach our recollection in June. He said that would be a great idea.

He was also talking about the difference in atmosphere and tradition between the French-speaking Benedictine monasteries and the non-French speaking ones, in which he includes the Irish, the British, and the German speaking monasteries. Not Anglo-Saxon, he was firm in refusing that appellation: the Irish, he reminded me, are by no means to be considered Anglo-Saxon. And he is right, to think of it. Just that, for an ordinary Indian, it doesn't mean much.

And the fact of having a Jesuit pope with Francis for a name. The abbot said that there was probably a different way of exercising authority, different for a religous and for a diocesan bishop. That's something to be thought about. At any rate, Pope Francis continues to be the darling of the media. Wait till he begins to say some hard things. It will happen, I suppose. 

Gerusalemme... centro dell'universo

"Qui sono avvenuti i fatti più importanti della storia, qui il cielo ha toccato la terra, qui si sono aperte le vie di comunicazione tra Dio e l’uomo, qui si sono dette le parole che non furono mai dette nella storia: “Non è morto, non è qui, è risorto, è vivo!” Questo è un luogo unico al mondo. Gerusalemme è veramente il centro dell’universo; vivere a Gerusalemme è una grazia perché qui si respira quell’aria, si vede quel cielo, si toccano quelle pietre che Lui, il Figlio di Dio ha toccato; Abramo, Isacco, Giacobbe, i patriarchi, i profeti hanno toccato; che Paolo, Pietro e i primi cristiani hanno toccato e ci mettono in relazione con la nostra storia, con le nostre radici. Io vivo qui, con qesta continua memoria delle nostre sorgenti, da dove veniamo."  (Mons. Carlo Maria Martini - 2004) [Thanks to Lorenzo Piola, from whose email I picked this up.]

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