Mirrors, a Summer Reflection

At the heart of the up and coming Extremely Large Telescope they are building in Chile, there will be a mirror. That mirror that reminds me of a honeycomb. A rather large honeycomb, though, which is about half the size of a football field.
This curved mirror will be segmented, all 39.3 metres wide of it, and consist of 798 hexagonal mirrors, each 1.4 metres across and 5 centimetres thick. It will catch loads more light than is currently possible and be able to create images 16 times sharper than those of the Hubble. (Do these numbers not strike you as Biblical in the manner of Noah-like cubits, say?) This amusingly-poorly-named telescope (younger relative to its neighbouring ‘Very Large Telescope’) will enable some astonishing depth of vision, however. Astronomers will look further into space in more detail than ever before. Stretch your mind into this:
This telescope will be so powerful that it will collect enough light to look to the observable limit of the Universe – soon after the Big Bang when the first stars and galaxies formed.
I don’t really know what this means. Sometimes I get glimpses or fleeting dreams leave a taste.
I wonder: Do each of us have mirrors collecting light in our hearts? Is that what a soul is?

I was thinking about the glass.
The primary symbol of self-discovery, self-knowledge, contemplation and reflection is the mirror.
The earliest mirror known was water, in the surface of which the human saw her soul reflected. Like consciousness itself, the mirror possesses the capacity to reflect the actuality of the visible world.
I was daydreaming about the telescope, and light and seeing to the edges of the known, as I buzzed by a few silvery flooded rice paddies on an errand earlier in the week. How could I not think of Alice and her Looking Glass? What if, I thought, we could see a patchwork of rice-paddies from a bird’s eye view? Or, say, from space? Would they not look like eyes, too, mirrors or gateways? Who would take time to reflect at edges of these pools? Who would dare to follow Socrates injunction to ‘Know Thyself’?
Mark Miodownik writes of the reflexive relationships; I wondered about glasses and our sense of ourselves.

The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture, it is part of us. We invented it, we made it, and in turn it makes us who we are.

This is a lovely idea:
Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself.
Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies.
We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, its magnificence.
Alan Watts
So is this:
Christ has no body but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which Christ blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes:
You are Christ’s body.
Christ has no body on earth but yours.
St. Teresa of Avila
And this, the simplest formulation:
We are a way for the universe to know itself.
Carl Sagan
This week, post-solstice, we are celebrating, serendipitously, the feasts of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart. Here, in the northern hemisphere, the very fullness of life is vivid around us.
May we know the body as temple and consent to shine the light that is uniquely ours to share.
Images: wiki commons

When the River Rises & the Figs Ripen

When the river rises and the figs ripen, when the irises are in full bloom and from the fields mirrors the colour of quicksilver materialize, then we welcome the nightly evensong of the frogs and I get on my bike and go hunting for the first viewing of planted rice sprouts.

People In The Know, know that, among many things, one of the things the Japanese do best are the seasons. Students will proudly confess, as if no one else in the world had ever experienced seasons, “We have four seasons in Japan.” Truth be told, it is quite possible that outside of Japan, you probably have not experienced the particulars of each season with quite the attention and love in which they are celebrated here.

My favourite name for the season we are in presently is Bai-u, the season of the plum rains, and I had occasion to see in the Plum Grove in the Garden a few days ago, the ground sprinkled with a good number of the small golden fruits fallen from the trees. Most of the green, unripe so-called ‘blue plums’ had already been harvested for the early summertime activity of making the delicious plum cordial called ume-shu.

Gifts of June

Yesterday, browsing through the Sasaki Sanmi’s great manual on the Way of Tea, I was transported into reverie by this:

. . . the sound of rain falling from the eaves and the singing of the kettle calm your mind. Isn’t it fun to hear the occasional falling of ume (a plum) to the ground?
Just passing the time of day during the early summer rain is apt to lead to joy . . .

The mornings nowadays are breezy and cool mostly, and when they are not there is a soft grey stillness that rests lace-like in the décolletage of the hills on the near-horizon. There are hydrangeas all over the show, in every possible hue and variation. The lotus flowers have begun to bloom and I shall, this weekend, be putting my nose in the way of some of the gardenia that blossom exuberantly along the canals and roads in town. On dry days one might be treated to evening cool descending with the moonrise and that beautiful twilight release of fragrance. On wet days, one might catch the whiff of a stick of incense burning to freshen and lift the spirits.

flower w raindrops

I do love the adornment of raindrops on flowers, don’t you?



And, back here on Earth (off the high wire)

I took myself out to the countryside to have a soak in some extravagant early summer green. It was not flames I sought this Pentecost Sunday in the park on the side of Dragon’s Mouth hill. Rather, it was the song of the bush warbler echoing in the amphitheatre formed in the cleavage between our dragon’s claws (or should that be ‘claw-vage’?) Birdsong cascaded around me from the tree tops that bordered the little field where I sat alone on a bench until I was drenched, through and through. Listening, I peeled bark from a damp piece of wood at my feet and brought it to my nose. It was sakura and its faded yet invincible fragrance whispered spring. A gentle buzzy chorus rose in the background of this tapestry of sound, a breeze wove in and out.

Pentecost is one of the maddest and most fantastic of our tales, thrilling to imagine, mind bending and satisfyingly (if only this weren’t such an unpleasantly percussive mouthful to say) eucatastrophic. Wouldn’t you also go out into the woods today to see if things were – if even for a moment – sufficiently upside down or right side up that you, too, could converse with the birds and the beasts?* And even if that didn’t happen the way you imagined, still there is joy – if only your own joy – and it ripples . . . butterfly wings, weather systems, you know the story. Our joy feeds the world. That perilous opening of hearts holds such promise. It could be that something similar happens with the Apostles on this day; the flames tearing away at illusion, running to meet the Other in a shock of recognition. What would you do if the walls between us came tumbling down? Is this not what everyone hears on Pentecost, in the ground of their being? That, simply, God is Love.

This holy day, surely, is one on which to entertain the possibilities of Interreligious Being. This is a field of endeavour to which Asian theologies can bring many well-grounded and  life-giving gifts. And so, in honour of the Missioners’ Holy Day of Pentecost and with prayers for Fr Michael Amaladoss [more here], I offer a few resources on Asian Christianity that I have recently come across and found beautiful [on Antony de Mello], inviting [Simon Chan’s “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up” ], stirring [The Jesus Sutras; a blog write up of which can be found here to ginger your curiosity. It’s in 10 parts and I’m looking forward to reading it in full!], and informative [The 2012 Encounter programme from Oz (podcast and/or transcript available) on The Asian Jesus. Fr Michael’s book, incidentally, bears the same title]. Read, listen, enjoy!

Become inspired!

* Philip Pullman has a great piece over at The New Statesman on make-believe, entitled “Imaginary Friends“. I’ve been thinking on this topic for a little while since reading Tolkein’s essay On Fairy Stories, specifically the question of how we come to believe and how we separate fiction from (consensus :)) reality. And I fondly remember this song from my childhood though I never saw the movie.


The Gaps

The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple-a universe.

Annie Dillard

Up in the Air

The Feast of the Ascension has passed and soul-kindling is being gathered for the feast of Pentecost. I am thinking aerial thoughts.

Over the weekend, I encountered, for the first time [here], the superb story of Henri Nouwen’s friendship with The Flying Rodleighs, a troupe of trapeze artists. The story seems to have resonated with a number of other things lately on my mind. The story goes,

One day while he was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, Henri fell into a discussion with him about flying. The acrobat told Henri this: “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.”

Henri asked him to explain how it works. “The secret,” Rodleigh said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.” “You do nothing!” Henri said, surprised. “Nothing,” Rodleigh repeated. “The worst thing the flyer can do it to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”

I am reading Endo Shusaku’s collection entitled Foreign Studies at the moment. Endo’s book is-and is not-a memoir. Its core energy is melancholic and aggravating, a masterfully sustained mood that expresses the vulnerability of being foreign and the deep unease the characters experience studying in France away from their native Japanese environment. I picked it up out of curiosity and perhaps also for consolation. Sometimes, even after 20 odd years away from home I want it affirmed that foreignness can be a fragile condition. Endo interests me as a cosmopolitan Japanese, and as a Christian, and also as someone who questions whether the two can, or do, ever really fit together. (Should they, I wonder? I mean snuggling with (any) ideology seems to me not such a good idea . . . ). In Foreign Studies, Endo elaborates the ‘unfathomable distances’ between cultures , between differences in daily life, customs, social mores and ways of thinking. Indeed, the strength of alienation in his characters might lead one to strongly suspect Endo had little hope that meaningful East-West dialogue was actually possible. In his later reflections, however, he gives some ground saying that

despite the mutual distance and the cultural and linguistic differences that clearly exist in the conscious sphere, the two [cultures, East and West] hold much in common at the unconscious level.

There’s a connection between the book and the aerialists in flight; or, rather, the connection is the moment of disconnection, that sublime moment when things, bodies or minds or simply possibilities, could go either way. That moment when the flyer is in flight and the catcher has not yet caught. Endo suggests that what we are not actively in control of (the unconscious) is what has the greatest potential to save us. The flyer, as Nouwen learned, must trust that connection will be made.

For fun I am appending this reliably beautiful post from a guy who is a rock star in my galaxy. Here is Ben Myers’ post on my favourite animator, Hayao Miyazaki, called “In Praise of Air