Tong Fior III

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One: It took me a long way to think of putting this without giving TMI, but...

Many: You've found an appropriate way to state it in public?

One: Yes. People who can't back off to save their skin when you're giving an ongoing and repeated "No" seem to sober up instantly at a C&D letter Cc'ed to an authority.

If I may combine two passages from C.S. Lewis: in an optional chapter in Mere Christianity, Lewis addresses an objection I have not otherwise heard, that people cannot conceive of God listening to millions of people all at once. He says that the entire sting of the objection comes from the condition that God deal with an enormous number of people simultaneously; he expects people would allow God to address any number of claimants provided only that they came to him one at a time.

But God is believed to be outside of time, and you have his attention as much as if you were the only person God has created. God is not limited by time, and the attention he gives every person is total, no less than if that person was his only creation. And so God hears with all of eternity the cry of the last seconds of a pilot crashing into a mountain.

The second point, in another area of his writing, winces at Arthurian knights seeking to "win worship," and declaims trying to earn fame before any merely human audience, but he offers one exception: we can and should seek fame before God himself. And next to that fame only before mortals is a consolation prize.

Putting these together, I am wary of whether it is genuinely beneficial to seek for other men to understand the cross you bear. However, this is eclipsed by the exception: we should seek, and have, God's full understanding of every nook of the crosses we bear.

Many: Is your point related to The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab?

One: That may be part, but I don't think it's the whole truth.

Many: It is a teaching of Tradition, and in the Bible, King Saul went from wanting to murder St. David to manhunts and making him Public Enemy Number One after women started chanting, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands."

One:Well, it would have been better for St. David's political stock if the woman had been singing the cultural equivalent of "David smells bad and his mother dresses him funny."

Many: And...?

One: It did nothing for St. David's political stock with Saul for Saul to hear that his feats as a warrior had been eclipsed. But partly, at least tacitly, St. David seems to have reminded King Saul of the heights of humility, and of service to God, from which he had fallen.

Many: So then, a man heaped insult on you and your writing and his bitterest insults to The Metacultural Gospel, which he actually twisted into an assertion that rape was the victim's fault, perhaps not only because he saw a gem whose equal he would never write...

One: ...but because on a more basic level he was uniquely identified with his two great causes, which he called "Christianity" and "Homosexuality," and...

Many: ...and possibly because you reminded him of a time when he only asserted one of his later two great causes.

One: Even if envy is double, and my having only one great cause stung him more than works of genius he knew he would never match, I do not think envy is the best thing to latch on first.

Many: What would you latch on sooner, then?

One: There are two points I would take from Elder Thaddeus, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. There are things about the book that I find odd...

Many: Such as?

One: It is the most occultic book I have ever read from a canonical author. Nowhere does it condone ever cursing anyone, but it provides more of a picture of how one might lay an unintended or intended curse than... I don't know what's even the first runner up on that score.

Many: Then what two points would you take from it?

One: The first might be called a Little Law of Attraction. Unlike the New Age-y, Oprah kind of law of attraction, the Little Law of Attraction does not say that if you think about receiving money, money, money, then a huge windfall will fall across your lap.

Many: Then what does it say?

One: It says that if you think thoughts of peace, you will get more and bigger thoughts of peace, and if you think thoughts of anger, you will get more and bigger thoughts of anger, and conflict with them. And this more focused Little Law of Attraction is actually much more useful for serious spiritual work than Oprah's version.

Many: And what is the second point you would take?

One: The natural—at least to sinners like us, at least a seemingly natural—trend is for us to be Hellishly bent into a vortex of focusing on our circumstances and entering a Hellish despair, while the higher and more beneficial path is to let go of focusing on our circumstances and raise our thoughts to Heaven. It's the harder path, but it's worth it.

And there is one non-point I would take from him.

Many: Which is?

One: I find the book's nexus a bit strange, but such of the nexus I can make sense of is a natural venue to discuss envy. Perhaps part of the envy I faced then was one gifted like many others he had met answering one profoundly gifted like no one else he had met, but such a factor is at least a relative rarity. More common is what I believe a Roman Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called a narrow escape syndrome, where even the most flaming liberal of academics sense themselves from having made a narrow escape from a conservative background. And really, the ability to say the Creed without crossing your fingers is of eternal significance as profound giftedness is not.

Many: I see. So, what else is happening with regards to Tong Fior? You had a recent self-defense circumstance, didn't you?

One: Well, when I was driving home from church, someone pulled out behind me from a driveway and tailgated me across aboiut four or five turns on twenty miles of road. When I got back to my monastery, I tried to give them as little time to react in terms of slowing down and taking the quickest entry to the monastery I've ever taken, and then slowing down and parking. They didn't follow me in, even though I was reviewing defense after I parked. I didn't need to; the Orthodox martial art is living the Sermon on the Mount, and all that was necessary for me was to enter the driveway without giving them much more time to react than was necessary. Had it come to a fight, I might sound like a martial artist in saying I would have given myself one chance in four. I couldn't run, which normal martial arts present as a vastly preferable option to fighting, because I have an old knee injury and would have been on the ground in excruciating pain if I had run. And I'm not sure that their following me was malicious; possibly they saw a URL on my vehicle and were just curious. I mostly managed to keep my cool for over a dozen miles, at least enough to make sensible decisions. The resolution was provided me.

Many: You don't seem to think you contributed much.

One: I didn't. Like two other victories, I followed the Lord of the Dance, and grace enough was shown that it wouldn't so easily be interpreted as my own power—chance, perhaps, might be considered a better interpretation by some. At any rate, this kind of scenario is rare, particularly next to the war with thoughts.

Many: Have there been any other self-defense situations you would mention?

One:One time when I was going to a food pantry, on the way out I followed the instructions of a volunteer and nicked the bumper of the car in front of me.

The driver of that car came out and almost immediately put up his dukes. He alternately went closer and further, said that he was already coping with the loss of his mother, and "Thatís not right" that on top of all of this I damaged his car. He said, "You'll pay for this!" as often as he said "That's not right." And by the way, in India—I believe him to be a first generation Indian immigrant—it is common practice after a car accident for the drivers to start fighting. People can be awed at Americans calmly exchanging information after a car accident.

For my part, I was standing, completely calm, not reacting, offering no response to his criticism, with my arms at my sides. He never struck me physically, but I think not only that I was right to do what I did, but that it brought much better results. He would have been willing to fight, and if I were to have adopted a fighting stance, I would have eroded much of the buffer I created by refusing to cooperate with the dance of conflict. If I had adopted a fighting stance, in which I would have been acting legally, and if I let him strike first the law would have been on my side to defend myself. However the response I took avoided injuring him at all. With at least some firearm ownership you can be told, The second last thing you want to do is pull that trigger." Kuk Sool Won has a saying like, " If you can run, do not fight. If you can defend yourself by holding, do not hurt. If you can defend yourself by hurting, do not injure. If you can defend yourself by injuring, do not kill." I would expect all of the martial artists I have studied under to regard handling the situation with no touching at all to be better than winning a fight.

And I might mention that one martial artist I worked under commented that someone with a gun will be uncomfortable if you are not afraid. He knew how to take away the gun but did not see that as the most important point of handling such a situation. The best response he saw didnít really take long years of martial arts mastery, and calm is a choice, however much it may seem anything. Hence Metropolitan JONAH's letimotif of "Do not react. Do not resent. Keep inner calm." This is, as one game was advertised, a minute to start learning and a lifetime to master.

Many: Ok, but what about the war with thoughts?

One: Here Elder Thaddeus is far from our only authority; the whole Philokalia of the Niptic Fathers, or Philokalia for short, is a collection across the centuries about the war with thoughts. Some of us are faced with a self-defense situation where martial arts would help less than once a year; others perhaps more or even less. (People who watch a lot of TV overestimate their chances of being a victim of violent crime.) But the battle of thoughts is with us every day.

Many: What about bullying? That is much more frequent than violent assault in some quarters.

One: On this, I would draw a third point from Elder Thaddeus.

Many: Which is?

One: There is a story about a horrible bunch of kids in a class who threw all sorts of abuse at their teacher. Then a new teacher came, who offered the abuse no reactions whatsoever. Their verbal missiles simply passed through her, and were not even acknowledged.

After sometime, the utterly unsuccessful attempts to get the teacher's goat gave way to a profound curiosity about who this woman was and why she was not sinking under their slings and arrows. And that is when she found a very teachable moment.

We are not necessarily slaves and patients of all that happens to us, and things that might go against our wishes do not need to mar our happiness. We have a choice. That is much of the Philokalia's point, or more broadly the one sentence thesis that is exposited at length and in detail in the terse four or five volume collection. Nor is this thesis unique to Orthodox Christianity; Man's Search for Meaning finds a similar experience in the Jewish experience of a Nazi concentration camp.

That is part of how I unwittingly shrugged off a physical assault in Tong Fior: Two Victories in Following the Lord of the Dance. I did not have much of any say in whether the man would attack me after I disobeyed his second command. I was, however, free to lose interest in the conflict in about five minutes. I was invited to press charges. I did not do so, not really because I was mainly to be leaving for Mount Athos and wanted to stay there, but because I had just lost interest.

Many: So what does your martial arts practice look like now?

One: Besides praying and working with my abbot?

There is something I should perhaps explain. My conscience has never allowed me to practice a traditional martial art. Or modern MMA or whatever. At one point I hung a gallon plastic bottle full of sand to strike with a spearhand when it came near me, and it, which I considered 37% of a martial art, and my conscience was uneasy with even that. The Orthodox martial art is living the Sermon on the Mount, and my training at present is to work more deeply on living the Sermon on the Mount which Orthodox monasticism is all about. Possibly my training in the future will involve practicing fighting; what is before me now is just the baseline of learning to repent.

And at any rate, I would close almost where The Transcendent God Who Meets Us in our Neighbor:

The temperature of Heaven can be rather accurately computed from available data. Our authority is the Bible: Isaiah 30:26 reads, Moreover the light of the Moon shall be as the light of the Sun and the light of the Sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days. Thus Heaven receives from the Moon as much radiation as we do from the Sun and in addition seven times seven (forty-nine) times as much as the Earth does from the Sun, or fifty times in all. The light we receive from the Moon is a ten-thousandth of the light we receive from the sun, so we can ignore that. With these data we can compute the temperature of Heaven. The radiation falling on Heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat lost by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann fourth power law for radiation and where H is the temperature of Heaven, E that of the Earth - 300 K - we have

(H/E)4 = 50.

This gives H as 798 K or 525°C.

The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed but it must be less than 444.6°C, the temperature at which brimstone or sulphur changes from a liquid to a gas. Revelations 21:8: But the fearful, and unbelieving . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. A lake of molten brimstone means that its temperature must be below the boiling point, which is 444.6°C.

We have, then, temperature of Heaven, 525°C. Temperature of Hell, less than 445°C. Therefore, Heaven is hotter than Hell.

Applied Optics, 11, A14 (1972)

One brief remark before continuing: one man I knew was in an elevator on a sweltering hot day, when a profusely sweating jogger stepped into the elevator and said, "It's hotter 'n Hell out there!" and he replied, slowly, "No, it isn't." There is something amiss with the humorous quote above, and Mark Twain, the great humorist, wrote, "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in Heaven." There is a sense in Orthodoxy that humor does not belong in the holiest places, and devout Orthodox I know have a deep joy but laugh little. The connotations of "humorless" do not describe them; they are not sour, nor joyless, nor rigid, nor quick to take offense, but they are luminous with the Light of a Heaven that needs no humor.

But the physicist quoted above underscores something: words are inadequate to capture Heaven. There are situations in life where words fail us: people say, "Words cannot express how grateful I am." And if words fail us for expressing gratitude, for instance, or romantic love, they fail all the more in describing Heaven and God. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, heart has not conceived, what God has prepared for them that love him:" words cannot express Heaven, nor God.

In classical theology this is spoken of as God's transcendence: God is infinitely far beyond any created thing. He is reflected in a million ways in our created world, but the hidden transcendent God is beyond all of them. In a book of profound influence but only a few pages long, The Mystical Theology, St. Dionysius writes of ascending towards God:

The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more our words are confined to the ideas we are capable of forming; so that now as we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing...

So this is what we say. The Cause of all is above all and is not inexistent, lifeless, speechless, mindless. He is not a material body, and hence has neither shape nor form, quality, quantity, or weight. He is not in any place and can neither be seen nor be touched. He is neither perceived nor is he perceptible. He suffers neither disorder nor disturbance and is overwhelmed by no earthly passion. He is not powerless and subject to the disturbances caused by sense perception. He endures no deprivation of light. He passes through no change, decay, division, loss, no ebb and flow, nothing of which the senses may be aware. None of all this can either be identified with it nor attributed to it.

Again, as we climb higher we say this. He is not soul or mind, nor does he possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is he speech per se, understanding per se. He cannot be spoken of and he cannot be grasped by understanding. He is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. He is not immovable, moving, or at rest. He has no power, he is not power, nor is he light. He does not live nor is he life. He is not a substance, nor is he eternity or time. He cannot be grasped by the understanding since he is neither knowledge nor truth. He is not kingship. He is not wisdom. He is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is he a spirit, in the sense in which we understand that term. He is not sonship or fatherhood and he is nothing known to us or to any other being. He falls neither within the predicate of nonbehing nor of being. Existing beings do not know him as he actually is and he does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of him, nor name nor knowledge of him. Darkness and light, error and truth—he is none of these. He is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to him, but never of him, for he is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of his preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation; he is also beyond every denial.

Over a millenium before a Bultmann would go on a program of saying that the images we have in Scripture are inadequate, the Orthodox Church would do one better. Her saints would tell of the hidden transcendent God who transcends everything we might say of him. And better than this can be said. God transcends his own transcendence, and transcends transcendence itself. And here we must leave Bultmann completely behind as not having gone far enough.

God transcends his own transcendence, and the transcendent God so far transcends his own transcendence that not only is he infinitesmally close to the Creation, immanent to all Creation, but he entered his Creation: God became man. And the reason God became man is that man might become divine. And there is never a sharp separation between Christ coming to save mankind and Christ coming to save the whole Creation: the transcendent God so far transcends his own incomparable transcendence that he is at work to deify men, and ultimately the whole Creation. In Christ there is no male nor female, paradise nor inhabitated world, heaven nor earth, spiritual nor material, uncreated nor created, but Christ is all, and in all, and transcends all, and in him all these differences are to be transcended. The transcendent Christ God transcends his Creation and transcends his own transcendence, and he returns to his Father in victory, bearing deified men and Creation as trophies who share in his transcendent victory. There is no distinction between male and female, paradise and the inhabited world, heaven and earth, spiritual and material, uncreated God and created creation, for the same transcendent Lord is Lord of all and bestows riches upon all who call him, and makes all one in Christ Jesus.

And this Lord who infinitely transcends his creation shouts through it. He shouts through icons, through every human love, through music, through storm and star. It is thus perhaps right to say, The Orthodox Martial Art is living the Sermon on the Mount, and more right to utterly transcend the statement in the hidden transcendent God.