Monday, July 14, 2014

Hryhorii Skovoroda

Old Kiev
"The World Caught Me But Did Not Hold On"

Until the 17th century Ukraine was closely associated with Catholic Poland. When Ukraine became part of Russia in the middle of the 17th century, she brought with her not only Catholic but also Protestant ideas taken from the communication between Kiev's church groups and German centers of Protestantism.
It was against this background that the star of so talented an individual as Grigory Skovoroda began to shine. He was a very religious man and, at the same time, had an unusual sense of internal freedom. He courageously exposed local abuses of the time. In bold, and at times audacious, flights of thought he rose in opposition to traditional church teachings and was absolutely fearless in his fiery pursuit of the truth. With an internal equilibrium between faith and reason, he himself did not differentiate between one and the other, Skovoroda relied upon an "allegorical" method for interpreting the Holy Scriptures. Here he demonstrated much courage, often completely rejecting the literal idea of the Scriptures in the name of an interpretation that seemed to him to be correct.
From his early years he stood out for his love of learning and a "firmness of spirit." He entered the Kiev Academy at the age of 16, but his studies were soon interrupted by a call to join the court choir in St. Petersburg. The young Skovoroda had a magnificent voice and exceptional musical skills. Two years later he returned to Kiev where he finished the Academy as a 28-year-old. Declining a spiritual title, he set out as a church minstrel with a certain General Vishnevsky, who was bound for Hungary on a diplomatic mission. Over a three-year period, Skovoroda visited Hungary, Austria, Poland, Germany and Italy, often traveling by foot. He was extremely well acquainted with the works of the ancient masters and the church fathers. During that period mystics and quietists were active in Germany. Having spent time there, Skovoroda always had a preference for Germany over all other countries, with the exception of his native land.
 Skovoroda frequently equates a "genuine" person (who becomes apparent within us during spiritual guidance) and Christ through thoughts such as this: "When you know yourself well, you will know Christ with just a single glance."

Alexander Pogorelov, Author
In 1765, Skovoroda abandoned his service to the church once and for all. This is the point at which the period of his "wandering" began. For the rest of his life Skovoroda no longer had a permanent refuge. "What is life?," he writes. "It is the dream of a Turk ecstatic from opium, a terrible dream causing the head to hurt and the heart to turn cold. What is life? It is wandering experience. I pave a road for myself, not knowing where I am going and why." In these wanderings Skovoroda traveled with a sack on his shoulders as if an indigent "The sack always contained the Bible." His time-tested flute and staff were always with him. Occasionally he visited with his many friends and worshipers for long periods of time; sometimes he left his friends unexpectedly.
Some unseen hand guided him on his path. Thus, when Skovoroda was visiting with friends in Kiev in 1770, he suddenly began to plead that he be allowed to leave Kiev. While in Podol, he suddenly sensed the strong odor of corpses. He fled the city the very next day. Two weeks later a famine broke out in Kiev, and the city was closed.

Grigory Skovoroda
Skovoroda becomes a philosopher as his religious tribulations require that he do so. He moves from his awareness of Christ to an understanding of man and the world. Skovoroda often experienced a spiritual ascent, a sort of ecstasy. Skovoroda himself writes about one such mystical episode to his young friend Kovalensky: "I went for a walk in the garden. The first sensation that sensed in my heart was a certain lack of restraint, freedom and courage. I felt within myself an exceptional mobility that filled me with incomprehensible power. Some very sweet, momentary outpouring of emotion filled my soul, causing everything within me to burn with fire. The whole world disappeared before me. A single feeling of love, calm and eternity revived me. Tears flowed from my eyes and spread a soothing harmony throughout my being."
In the world of mystical tribulations Skovoroda becomes increasingly convinced that "the entire world is asleep," and its sleep is agonizing. In his songs we come across many judgments about the world's innermost life, which one can only experience through religion. Skovoroda feels deeply the secret sorrow and secret tears of the world.
"This world reveals a magnificently beautiful view
But hidden within it is a vigilant worm
Woe to the world! You show me laughter
Inside you sob secretly with your soul"
Thus, on the soil of religious sentiment, alienation from the world emerges in Skovoroda. Life on earth appears before him in a dual form. The reality of one's being is different on the surface and in its depths. And from this Skovoroda comes to the view that there is awareness coursing along the surface of existence and awareness "of God."
"If you wish to know something in truth," he writes, "first look at the flesh, i.e., on the surface, and you will notice on it traces of God, revealing an unknown and secret wisdom. This is a high level of awareness, the discerning of "God's tracks," is achieved through spiritual insight, but it is attainable by anyone able to free himself from the captivity of sensuality. "If God's spirit has entered your heart," he wrote, "if your eyes are opened by the spirit of truth, you now see everything double; you divide every creature into two parts. When you take a fresh look at God, then you will see everything in Him, as if in a mirror: everything that was always in Him but that you never saw before."

Map of the Russian Empire 18th century 1778
The path to a deeper contemplation of existence needs to be found, first and foremost, within ourselves. Self-awareness, opening within us two "levels" of existence - that is, opening a spiritual life following corporal-psychological tribulations - enables one to see everything in the duality of existence. Therefore, self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom: "Without first taking measure of yourself," observes Skovoroda, "what value will you extract from the knowledge of measuring what is in other beings?" "The seeds of all knowledge are contained within an individual; this is where their secret source resides," Skovoroda asserts. "I know that my body is based on an eternal plan," he writes. "You see within yourself one earthly body but do not see a spiritual body." "Know yourself and understand God as a single endeavor."
Skovoroda frequently equates a "genuine" person (who becomes apparent within us during spiritual guidance) and Christ through thoughts such as this: "When you know yourself well, you will know Christ with just a single glance."
Man's self-adequacy, that is, his acquisition of his own internal self, is the fulfillment of God's wish for him: "All his deeds lie in faith; faith lies in truth; truth in eternity; eternity in immortality; immortality in the beginning, and the beginning in God." Only then does the "world open to your thoughts the temple of serenity and dress your soul in the clothing of joy, satisfies and enriches the heart."
Man does not choose between the righteousness of the Bible and the evil of the empirical world. Skovoroda proceeds from the premise that, selecting himself, a person pursues a course of self-awareness, knowing himself from within and, as the culmination of this course, finds a single, genuine symbolic person. Furthermore, a person has no freedom in selecting himself. Predestination and predetermination of the choice is indeed the very symbolic person Christ in the entire scope of his individual history, each moment of which is symbolic and points to the required path.
In his twilight years, having reached the age of 72, Grigory Savvich Skovoroda was visiting with one of his students. Sometime around evening he took a spade and began digging a narrow ditch. "What are you doing, dear friend?," his host asked him. "It is time, my friend, to end the wandering!", the guest responded. "And I ask you to let this be my final burial site and that it bear the inscription that the world caught me but did not manage to hang on." The following day he was found dead in his room. His hands were crossed together on his chest, and his head rested on a scroll of his own writings. They were only published a hundred years after his death. This did not prevent him from becoming a genuinely legendary figure among the people. And official scholarly records consider him to be Russia's and Ukraine's first philosopher.
By Alexander Pogorelov

My Testament

My Testament
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.
When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
-Taras Shevchenko


Як умру, то поховайте
Мене на могилі,
Серед степу широкого,
На Вкраїні милій,
Щоб лани широкополі,
І Дніпро, і кручі
Було видно, було чути,
Як реве ревучий.
Як понесе з України
У синєє море
Кров ворожу… отойді я
І лани, і гори —
Все покину і полину
До самого бога
Молитися… а до того
Я не знаю бога.
Поховайте та вставайте,
Кайдани порвіте
І вражою злою кров’ю
Волю окропіте.
І мене в сiм’ї великій,
В сiм’ї вольній, новій,
Не забудьте пом’янути
Незлим тихим словом.
— Тарас ШЕВЧЕНКО25 грудня 1845,в Переяславі

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Foreign Service?

For years I've thought about joining the Foreign Service in some capacity. It's a career option that would allow me to use my talents and interests in a way that was beneficial to me and the wider world. Less secure and demanding forms of International Development and Advocacy work has called to me in years past, but I'm starting to give the US State Department and the diplomatic corps serious thought. I'm a little worried about the prospect, because I don't want it to distract from my spiritual religious and theological development. If I were to join the Foreign Service, I'd be spending at least 5 years of my life there. And I don't want to distract from gaining my Masters in Divinity or in getting the opportunity to teach.
Most importantly , i don't want to be cut off from my religious community. I'm a young Friend, and I don't want to go to a place unless God sends me, that doesn't have any Quakers to sit in silence and fellowship with on First day.  I feel like I've gone long enough neglecting spiritual community, and it's time for me to have a real grounding. I fear being so caught up in my Job that I neglect the spiritual paths and gifts for religious and theological thought that God has blessed me with. So, I'm asking God for guidance and hoping he will bless me with some. I also want God to send me a young handsome Quaker/Sabbatarian person to spend the rest of my life with. I want to be equally yoked with a young man who loves God and people. Not self-hating, brave open funny.. Kind generous and understanding. Both Spiritual and religious. And again loving above all. Including loving me.

Monday, June 30, 2014


Well, I haven't entered any journaling here since last month, so I think I need to make the effort and at least talk a little bit about how life has been going recently.
Nothing really exciting has happened, other then getting a new Job. I start on July 15, and I am so excited to be able to do something different. I hope that it is a great fit, and that I truly enjoy myself and grow in this new working experience. Other than that, life is pretty monotonous and mundane. I'm reading and thinking a lot about various things. I'm losing weight (only 10-12 pounds away from my goal), and continuing to dream about the future. I'm still in a state of preparation, I think, for whatever work God has for me to do. I've been waiting a long time, but I hope the experience is truly worth the waiting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jamaican Homophobia: The Abominable Crime.

The Abominable Crime is a documentary about the lives of Gay people in Jamaica and the dangers they are facing. It shows what happens when a devoutly conservative christian society that genuinely feels gay people are a danger, create the atmosphere of fear and revulsion that results in the death, injury and destruction of Gay people and their families.
The fate of Gay people in Jamaica was one of the things that made me realize that any person or faith who views homosexuality as an Abomination is an active participant in the disenfranchisement, injury and death of Gay people. Caribbean Homophobia proved to me that you can’t love or respect Gay persons while deeming their sexuality and relationships to be destructive.
When I was younger I believed in the idea of love the sinner and hate the sin, and the protest by many Church folk in the US that they weren’t encouraging the hatred of Gay people made sense to me. But as I looked at the land of my forbears and countries that are similar, like Jamaica, I realized that the only reason gay people are safe from the level of brutality  and abuse exhibited in this film is because Conservative Christians in this country lack the kind of widespread cultural and political dominance that they enjoy in others. But where they have the power and cultural clout, the lives of gay people are made unerringly miserable.
The denomination I grew up in is the largest single denomination in Jamaica. The former  Prime Minister featured at the beginning of this film is from my old denomination, the  current Governor General is as well. And in a society where not just Conservative Christianity generally but MY denomination specifically enjoys so much weight and power, this kind of situation exists. This situation persists throughout the entire Caribbean and wherever else Conservative Christian ethics and worldviews have power or hold any sway. And it used to be this way in the US until fairly recently. 
Jamaican homophobia helped to disabuse me of any illusions I held that I could view Gay people as abominable, detestable and worthy of death because of their relationships, and not cause them any harm. And even though it meant having to leave a Church I cared deeply about, I am grateful to these stories for opening up my eyes.

My Years In Conversion Therapy and How I Forgave My Father