Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Johnny's Lament

Is this Johnny?

A small fable.

Johnny cries out in confusion:

I have dated her for a year and more
But still I don't understand her thoughts
Whenever we are together, she licks her lips hungrily.
She comments on my scent, my taste, my seal of freshness.
Whenever we go to the kitchen, she tries to shove me into the microwave.
Who am I to her?
Am I to her a serving of microwavable lunch?
Specifically, the meatballs that you could buy in IKEA?

I am confused, because who am I?
Am I Johnny, who lives, works, plays and loves?
Or am I fifteen balls of mincemeat
So succulent and full of Swedish goodness?
Does she love me for who I am?
Or does she love me because I go well with lingonberries?
Am I in the wrong that I resist being reheated?
Was I born to be served with gravy and mash?

And the one who made Johnny replies:

Johnny, look, I am in the business of making meatballs
And you are certainly not one of them
It is not in your blueprint to merely taste savoury and delightful
Look! I gave you a family to love and a beating heart
I gave you eyes to see and ears to hear
I gave you hands to wield axes and make ploughs
Do you understand? I made you to fell forests and raise nations
Meatballs past their expiry date will surely be cast into the dark
But you, Johnny, you shall come back to me and live.

And so Johnny replies:

Blessed is today that the blueprint is revealed to me
Here is who I really am, my purpose and my heart's desire.
I will shed my deceitful carton, my brand, my nutritional info;
I shall disregard the lewd liars in the street
Who call me names like KÖTTBULLAR and GRÄDDSÅS
And walk in my maker's wonderful light.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Putorana plateau, 2013 [source:]

Whenever one went southwards from the Rumelian lands, one thing which would swiftly become apparent was that there was good reason why no one, even those who lived in the furthest south of the realms, would venture back in the direction their ancestors came by. It was a plateau which, at the place where Irannika's grandmother lived, loomed over the lowlands as a huge cliff wall stretching many hundreds of miles. The ones who had come to Rumelia during the Settlement of the North must have had arrived here after a large detour around the landform, and had probably since forgotten the way back. In any case the plateau itself was a place of serious taboo; the land yielded scant life, being in most places a rocky terrain covered in most places by a blanket of lichen, and it was said to be infested by ghouls, pripyatines (people of an untouchable caste), mutants and the few bandits who remained undaunted by the previous, making them all the more ghastly and formidable. The demon Lenin, who in his living days had cursed Rumelia three feet into the sod since the days before the Settlement, continued to hover over the plateau as a perennial, malevolent presence.

What the Rumelians miss, since they were so intent of looking elsewhere, was that this barren highland housed a place of sanctuary. If you asked anyone living there and was lucky to find a human being who also happened to speak in human tongues, they would know it as the Abbey of Saint Francis of Amatodate, the Amatodachi Piran-senpashe Kerka. The abbey is immediately recognisable as a cluster of hewn-rock buildings, almost a fortress, always next to a freshwater lake somewhere in the featureless landscape. It was unique not only as one of the rare few sedentary establishments in a country ruled by life of the more nomadic sort, but also a place of mystery that some looked to as solace and other looked to with incomprehending dread.

It is useful to think of the abbey not simply as a building, but as a group of people who maintain it: an order, if you will, of men and women who vow to follow the way of Saint Francis of Amatodate and to maintain a place of refuge in a cruel country, giving protection to people threatened by violence and food for the starving. The members of the Order of Saint Francis of Amatodate follow a curious double life: one one hand, an intensely contemplative life of masses, hourly prayer and adoration, centered on the worship of the Yeshua; and on the other, a rugged tenacity, and a special bloodlust reserved for any miscreant who would come to upset the peace of the sanctuary. And miscreants were all too common, for among the brigands circulated a legend that the abbey housed a cornucopia, in the form of an pot, a basin, a silo, or even a small cup (no one is really sure) from which the Order can readily procure any amount of edible grain as was asked. By this rumour, the legendary object became the object of greed and a target of plunder of the people across the region.

Procuring this cornucopia, however, was no simple feat. Few attempts at overrunning the warrior monks, armed to the teeth with vicious improvised weapons, actually succeeded. There are few among the pripyatines who hear of the cornucopia to cast a curse on those who have acquired it by force; only the Order could reap any benefit off it, and it provided only as much as asked for. The raiding party who seized the cornucopia would invariably be confronted with an empty, useless vessel with no discernible powers whatsoever. There was once a group of brigands who had reached the cornucopia, then in the form of a grain tower, after murdering the entire Order in their sleep. When it became clear that no more food was ever to be found springing from the silo, they became so disgusted and enraged that they had the cornucopia, and along with it the abbey itself, doused in vodka and burned to the ground. The pripyatines say that they have never heard from them since, not that they're sure that they had even left the abbey when its buildings were completely consumed by fire, it seemed.

Curiously, the abbey always restored its presence, even after instances of complete extinction. A new abbey would always emerge, built by human hand not too away from the ruins of the previous abbey and always next to one of those beautiful lakes in the mountains. This would always be accompanied by a whole new posse of divinely inspired individuals who often seemed to appear out from nowhere and who were ever armed with a fervent focus on peace and charity, carrying the torch of Saint Francis of Amatodate. It was through such inexplicable reincarnations that the Order propagated itself through the ages.

A clue as to whence these people came from could probably be found in a story told by the pripyatines which dated to the earliest days of the Order, back to the days of the Settlement. The first Order of Saint Francis had been a group of Korean monks and sisters who built the abbey by a glacial lake in to remember their former abbacy, wrested from them by the fiend Lenin and his minions in a period of great spiritual strife in Korea. After a few years, these first members of the Order were then murdered by a group of Japanese-speaking robbers, who took over the abbey and took to maximising its capabilities as a fortress, hoping to use it as a defensive ground against rival gangs. After the leader died, his charismatic next-in-command was ushered in to lead the band. The new leader was who people later named the Piran-senpasha, since it was he who compelled his compatriots lay down their arms, convert to the Christian faith, and thenceforth lead dedicated lives of prayer and charity.

The abbey had been named Vuokuan by the Koreans, after the location of one of their locations back in the country. This was changed in Piran's generation to Amatodate, a name alluding to the ancestral homeland of the abbey's new owners. Even though since that time, for three thousand years, vagrants, exiles of many tribes and races had taken their turns to repent and answer their life callings in the Order of Saint Francis of Amatodate, the names themselves have been preserved to the present day, and the conversion of Piran and his fellow murderers at the abbey continues to be recounted in local folklore, being at once a sign of defiance and a thorn in the side of the fiend Lenin.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Kraków Pilgrimage Story, told in Flags

I was away on pilgrimage in Kraków and the surrounding areas for the previous two weeks. Today I am still reeling from the spiritual hangover and jetlag. Never mind. I shall write about the pilgrimage and see if it is any help.

This is my second pilgrimage (after Lithuania in 2012) and also my first serious one. I went with 170 pilgrims in my group and 3 million from outside of the group. Putting this kind of number into a city designed for 700,000 is insanity and we are all very grateful to be alive at the end of all this. That aside, seeing the whole world packed into an open field, waving their flags, and celebrating mass together is quite a sight to behold. I meant especially the flags, because I am a huge flag nerd.

Yes, World Youth Day Kraków 2016 gave me a sensory overload.
It only makes sense, then, that my short pilgrimage reflections should be told with the help of flags.

1. Singapore

This is our flag. It is very pretty.
We had ~three of these things, plus the flag of the Archdiocese. I thought it was overkill at first, but later it proved useful to keep the 170 of us together in times of extreme moshing. It is also useful as a tool to explain to people that we are a sovereign country.

Someone asked me what the crescent meant, and I gave the politically correct answer.

2. Kazakhstan

This is the first flag I saw after stepping onto terra firma at Warsaw. A small group of people were wearing t-shirts printed with this flag. I was excited to see Kazakhstani folk in real life but also surprised that there were Catholics from there at all. It turns out that this country houses 1 archdiocese, 2 regular dioceses and an apostolic administration.

I almost shouted Ай болсын! at them. It was not an appropriate phrase for that occasion, and I'm glad that I shut up.

3. United Arab Emirates

I was surprised to see the Pan-Arabic colours alongside ours when we arrived at Żory. It turned out that this group comprise largely of people who were Catholics from elsewhere and were at UAE to find work, not necessarily Arabs.

The Malayalee diaspora was represented prominently in this group and wherever Jesus Youth is involved. Masses at Żory were also graced by bishops from two of the Eastern Rite churches dating back to when St. Thomas was preaching in Kerala, the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara communities. The vestments they bore were ornate and blingy, and they stood out from the others. I received communion from one of them.

4. Bonaire and Curaçao

These flags were spotted at Muchowiec Airfield and stumped everyone, myself included.
The countries are island nations off the coast of Venezuela, and are part of the Dutch crown.

5. French Polynesia

A certain Tahitian religious sister ran into me and talked with me during one of those cultural workshops during the Żory festival. I met her and her group again later at Muchowiec Airfield.

French Polynesia is an overseas country (pays d'outre-mer) of the French Republic and is in the remote South Pacific, roughly halfway between New Zealand and Chile. The main island is Tahiti, made famous to the rest of the world by Paul Gauguin paintings. Getting to Poland from here is a real pain, requiring a series of flights transiting at Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris. Some of the people there are descendants of Chinese immigrants.

6. Cabo Verde

Spotted at Auschwitz II and also later in Kraków.
These people live on a group of islands off the coast of West Africa, and speak Portuguese.

7. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Photo Credit: Kevin Clark

I ran into Fr. Benjamin Holdren (left in picture) of the Diocese of Lincoln while exiting the mosh at Błonia Park. Fr. Ben has helped me through tough times during my work stint at UNL last year, and also treated the parishoners to free donuts and coffee every Saturday after morning mass. One simply does not forget these things.

I said hi to him and went away too soon.

8. France and its traditional provinces

The French took a large proportion of pilgrims in this event and regional flags were one way of distinguishing between particular groups.

This is the "Gwenn-ha-du" (white-and-black) flags that identifies the Bretons, seemingly the largest group of French pilgrims.

This is Lorraine with a pretty flag featuring three weird-hawks.

The Corsicans used a variant of this flag with four of these Moor's heads around a red cross.
CORRECTION. Those aren't the Corsicans but the Sardinians, who come from a region of Italy

9. Canada and its provinces

Jeff Lockert, president of Catholic Christian Outreach, came from this province.
Spotted behind a wheelchair in Wadowice.

Québec people are French-speaking and that always gets me excited. They also have a nice flag.
Spotted at Wadowice.

10. Pairs of countries involved in ongoing vendettas but whose flags flew together nonetheless

The Mainland and Taiwanese groups came together to Poland and attended spiritual prep together before we found them, a fact which I found pretty cool. The Mainland is represented by groups from the Beijing, Handan and Macanese dioceses, among others (I hope). They had a bit of trouble coming because of paranoid bureaucrats and funny people showing up at their doorsteps begging them not to go.

I brought Pilgrim Kristin and her friend (both based in Bejing) to see my Archbishop. There we found out that she was a Teochew speaker. This reunion of sorts (Archbishop was also a Teochew speaker) took us all by surprise and cast a warm glow over the dusk at the airfield. One simply does not forget these things.

The Taiwan group was led by a Brazilian brother who spoke fluent Mandarin. He gave to me a foldable fan.

The Russian and Ukrainian flags were spotted flying side by side at Wawel Castle. Like, how cool is that?

A certain Father Laurentius from Flores serves in Volgograd and has been skulking about in Russia from the days of Perestroika. I tried to speak Indonesian with him, but failed. He recounted to Celine and myself about how the church has grown since the Soviet Union days, and invited us to visit him.

Father Laurentius was very boisterous, despite the crowd, and liked to shout Polish words at people. He had the dark skin and stout built of Flores men. I remembered the apparition of Our Lady at Larantuka, not too far away from his hometown, Maumere.

11. Easily confused flags leading to hilarious misunderstandings

The top flag is Hungary, where Pilgrim Julian studied for his Master's Degree and also home to my favourite classical composer (Béla Bartók) and many of the most badass mathematicians in history.

The bottom flag is Italy, where 95% of the pilgrims seem to have come from, so mistaking Hungarians for Italians was quite understandable (though not any less embarrassing).

12. Finland and Iceland

These two groups were small and stuck with each other at Błonia Park during Opening Mass and Papal Welcome. The Finnish group was made up entirely of Filipina ladies from St. Mary's Parish, where I called home for three months, four years ago. I asked them about the parish priest, Fr. Rafał Czernia, but they replied that he was somewhere else in the park.

I asked Oletekko Suomalainen? to one of the Icelandic priests by mistake. He laughed, and then redirected me to the ladies at the Finnish banner. But I still failed, because by then my Finnish language is close to nonexistence.

My favourite author of all time (Halldór Laxness) was an Icelander and also a Catholic for a period of time. One of the rooms at his house at Mosfellsbær, which is now a museum, has a blessing from St. JP2 hanging on the wall. One simply does not forget such things.

13. Sweden

I met the Swedish pilgrims during the mosh after Opening Mass. They were a group of girls from Uppsala. I tried my Swedish on them for two lines, but in the end English was still more practical for communication. Such is life.

14. Pakistan and Bangladesh

I remembered hearing before the trip that the pilgrims who wished to come to Poland from Pakistan and Bangladesh had had their visa applications rejected. However, during one of the moshes in Kraków, I saw these two banners being unfurled again. Good for them. They probably found a way to apply from a third country, like what the Syrian pilgrims did.

15. Lebanon (also Syria)

The dude who bore the Lebanese flag turned out to be from Syria; from Aleppo, a beautiful town. He had managed to come to World Youth Day after applying for his visa in Dubai, because nothing works any longer in Syria. After a while he looked very sad and did not want to talk about anything anymore.

16. Barbados

Note: Barbados is secretly Atlantis.
Spotted at Muchowiec Airfield.

17. Slovenia

Spotted at Campus Misericordiae.

The Slovenians performed an act of charity during the Vigil and Closing Mass. They set up shop at the boggiest corner of our sector and made a cordon of bottles and sticks and raffia strings to prevent the others from stepping into the mud by accident. One simply does not forget such things.

18. Costa Rica

The favourite stereotype bore by the Costa Ricans was the exclamation ¡pura vida! and you could yell that at them just to make them happy.

Sr. Cecilia, who journeyed with a group of us on a mission trip to Tagaytay 2 years ago, is based here now, and probably speaks flawless Spanish.

19. Honduras

Pilgrim Laura from Honduras sat next to me on the flight from Warsaw to London, and we commiserated on the sad state of Polish public transport. Pilgrim Laura studies in medical school in San Pedro Sula. She loves her country, and thinks it beautiful. We talked about many other things.

20. Belarus

This is the flag of Belarus, a country bordering Poland to the east and the last European country (for now) to host a mad dictator.

The Belarusian contingent at Campus Misericordiae also uses the white-red-white variant of the flag, which is interesting, considering the fact that it is used as a protest flag.
During Vigil Night, I shared a most blessed moment with the Belarusian youth, religious sisters, and priests in a tent where the Blessed Sacrament had been exposed.

At first, I had scant intention of going for adoration. I went into the tent really just to keep myself warm in the night, where the alternative was to sleep out in the field without a sleeping bag. I had thought (prayed) a little about it and reasoned that by not bringing a sleeping bag to the Campus, I had in fact betrayed a deeper desire to keep the vigil rather than to get any sleep. I prepared myself with coffee and a warm tub of pierogis from the stall.

I began kneeling outside of the tent entrance, careful to step around the sleeping men next to the tent (who must be so lucky to sleep there, close enough to be dreaming of Jesus even!). I followed the Divine Mercy chaplet sung in a strange language which I assumed to be Polish until I managed to obtain a lyrics sheet.

All the lyrics were in the Cyrillic alphabet. I could not contain my glee.
On closer examination, I spotted the letters
Іі and Ўў
which indicate Belarusian.

The nicest thing about Belarusian spelling is that words are pronounced exactly like they are spelt, in contrast to Russian.

The songs themselves were beautiful and I sang along whenever I could. I made notes on my sheet on which of the songs were sung, for future reference. I even made a few discreet voice recordings. I have never been able to find many of these songs again in recorded form. The songs were probably really just meant to stay with me for the moment only. Such is life.

I expressed profuse gratitude to one of the guys (Pilgrim Viktor, if I remember correctly) who played guitar. I asked to keep one sheet of lyrics and in return I gave him a medallion with an image of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd embossed behind. And the sunrise happened and shone upon the altar and shone upon the Blessed Sacrament.

I used to like to think that I am leading Him by the hand and going to people in need of him. Now I knew that it was He who has been leading me by the hand after all. He led me into this wonderful place and among these wonderful people and I had no idea what was in store for me. What have I done after all? I had only prayed a little, and then watched from the back seat as the scenery unfolded before my eyes.

After this relevation happened, I took some time to collect myself and prepared for Closing Mass. And the Holy Father breezed by in his buggy and life returned to normal soon enough. Just Kidding.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Later Letter of Sultan Mahmoud

Wherein our fabled folk-hero, the Sultan, mulls over loss.

Brides and marshals have left my side,
My provinces I have lost; my pride has deserted me
Only in your goodness you have kept me alive
When I rend my throat for mercy and no one hears me, you are there
Day after day, my life receives from you a trickle of hope
My love is for you -- how can I pine for anyone else?
The world's treasures before me are as so many pearls before swine
I chase, I covet, with feigned fervour, but I fool no one:
As easily as I gain what I desire, they are taken from me
Only you, for in every moment I long to return to your embrace!
Never turn your gaze away, lest I turn to dust
For I am filled with dread for when you too will leave me forever
I will tear my robes, I will shred my heart, I will never regain peace.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Lament of the Three Marys - Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire

A Pheadair, a Aspail, an bhfaca tú mo ghrá geal? (Óchón, is óchón ó)
Chonaic mé ar ball é á chéasadh gan ordan (Óchón, is óchón ó)
- Oh Peter, apostle, did you see my loved one? (Alas, alas, and alas!)
- I saw him while ago, being attacked by the enemy (Alas, alas, and alas!)
Cé hé an fear breá sin ar Chrann na Páise?
An é nach n-aithníonn tú do mhac, a mhaithrín?
- Who is that fine man on the Tree of Passion?
- Don't you recognize your own son, Mother?

An é sin an maicín a thuileadh in ucht Mháire?
An é sin an maicín a rugadh insan stábla?
- Is that the little son I carried for three trimesters?
- Is that the little son who was born in the stable?

An é sin an maicín a d'iompair mé trí ráithe?
A mhicín mhuirneach, tá do bhéal is do shróinín gearrtha
- Or is that the little son who was reared at Mary's breast?
- O little darling son, your mouth and your nose are cut

Cuireadh tairní maola trína chosa is trína lámha
Cuireadh an tsleá trína bhrollach álainn
- And blunt nails were driven through his feet and hands
- And a spear was driven through his beautiful chest

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Painting for Sakhayana

On Monday, while evening mass had just started, Sakhayana Alekseyeva, a famous actress who lived in Yakutsk, saw a painting which I had published on Instagram. She replied, saying that she loved it, then she shared it for the rest of her fans. It was the best thing that happened all day! I made sure the world knew.

I made the painted version of this picture in particular from Marie's advice, because of that mesmerising and surreal effect from the frost on her eyelashes, and also I needed some outlet to express and exorcise this unlikely, sudden, and stupid infatuation which stirred my emotions into a mush and gave inspiration to all sorts of strange creative ventures.

Back before the sanctuary, I gave a quick thanks to the upstairsman for allowing me even this small and frivolous joy in painting a picture of a beautiful lady, and the indulgence of being noticed for the trouble. I certainly hope this made her day as much as it had made mine. Meanwhile I shall pack up and busy myself with many other things.

Acrylic on canvas 30 x 30 cm
  20 March 2016

(It's just a study, really.) 
[Link to Sakhayana's Instagram]
[Drama series "Ыллыктар (Transcr.: Illıktar)" from NVK Sakha]

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Confession of Alessandro Serenelli, 1961

I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart.

Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.

My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried.

There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.

When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.

If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.

Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.

I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.

Alessandro Serenelli, May 5, 1961

--- original Italian text ---

Sono vecchio di quasi 80 anni, prossimo a chiudere la mia giornata.

Dando uno sguardo al passato, riconosco che nella mia prima giovinezza infilai una strada falsa: la via del male che mi condusse alla rovina. Vedevo attraverso la stampa, gli spettacoli e i cattivi esempi che la maggior parte dei giovani segue quella via, senza darsi pensiero: ed io pure non me ne preoccupai. Persone credenti e praticanti le avevo vicino a me, ma non ci badavo, accecato da una forza bruta che mi sospingeva per una strada cattiva. Consumai a vent’anni il delitto passionale, del quale oggi inorridisco al solo ricordo. Maria Goretti, ora santa, fu l’angelo buono che la Provvidenza aveva messo avanti ai miei passi. Ho impresse ancora nel cuore le sue parole di rimprovero e di perdono. Pregò per me, intercedette per me, suo uccisore.

Seguirono trent’anni di prigione. Se non fossi stato minorenne, sarei stato condannato a vita. Accettai la sentenza meritata; rassegnato espiai la mia colpa.

Maria fu veramente la mia luce, la mia Protettrice; col suo aiuto mi diportai bene e cercai di vivere onestamente, quando la società mi riaccettò tra i suoi membri. I figli di San Francesco, i Minori Cappuccini delle Marche, con carità serafica mi hanno accolto fra loro non come un servo, ma come fratello. Con loro vivo dal 1936.

Ed ora aspetto sereno il momento di essere ammesso alla visione di Dio, di riabbracciare i miei cari, di essere vicino al mio angelo protettore e alla sua cara mamma, Assunta.

Coloro che leggeranno questa mia lettera vogliano trarre il felice insegnamento di fuggire il male, di seguire il bene, sempre, fin da fanciulli. Pensino che la religione coi suoi precetti non è una cosa di cui si può fare a meno, ma è il vero conforto, la unica via sicura in tutte le circostanze, anche le più dolorose della vita.

Pace e bene!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Folktale told in the Winter Solstice

Photo by Charel Klein
The story goes that there were three gods: The first ruled the sky, the second ruled the earth, the third ruled the universe. Each god was unshakably convinced that he himself was the greatest of all the gods, and no day passed without the three gods boasting quarrelsomely about their own greatness. Eventually they became tired of convincing the others by words alone. They agreed to hold a contest, so that each can take turns to reveal themselves to the people and then find out which one among them was the greatest, once and for all.

The god of the sky mustered all his strength, then with a flourish of his left hand he whipped up the fiercest storm that the world has seen of this age. Forceful gales blew over the ocean in to the land from the furthest north, sweeping people off their feet, and carrying their homes away in mudslide and deluge. With the snap of his finger he created the lightning, and anything or anyone who crossed the path of thunder were burned to a crisp. With his right hand he shook the land and a great wave passed over the ocean, and soon a thousand fishing towns nestled by the western shores of the ocean were soon carried away by the raging waters: women in the homes, children in the homesteads, and men in fishing boats. And the Barentines and the people of Tunu and Iceland fell prostrate before him in terror and said: enough, we shall worship you; hereafter take our sacrifice. 

The god of earth mustered all his wit, and with the sweetest singing tone began to sing to the people. The wealth of your masters are ripe for the taking, as are the bounty of all the earth. Rise up against your oppressors, take what is rightfully yours. Hold on to no scruples, as I who wield the wheel of history is by your side. With his left hand he set the houses of the wealthy aflame, and with the right hand he uprooted the trees of the forest, and turned the skies grey with soot. The enlightened masses of the eastern lands fell upon their enemies with gleeful pillage, even turning on their own tribesmen in their fervour for progress. But after this unfortunate time of bloodshed and rapacity had passed, peace once again returned, and the people who remained saw all these and were happy. We shall worship you, you who have created our new world, chorused the prosperous Lenese and the well-fed Chukchi, hereafter take our sacrifice.

The god of the universe mustered all his power, then became a small child, a helpless and minuscule homunculus who grew in the womb of a woman, who bore him in the stables and brought him up until he became a man: a man of genuine human likeness and appearance, who walked among the people. He spoke in a humanly tongue of love, mercy, and the unity of mankind. Men and women of all trades were drawn to him; those who believed his words became as newborns, coming to be again in haloes of water and fire: new men of shrewdness and wisdom, incapable of deceit, yet as innocent as the buntings in the snow. With his power he forgave people of their wrongdoings, healed the incurable, and raised the dead. The rich and the powerful resented his ways, but when they tried to kill him, he tore down their place of worship and built another in its place within three days. And the Rumelians and Taimirians fell prostrate before him in the new temple day after day, proclaiming his name above that of every other god.

And this is why the Barentines live in perpetual fear of the elements, why the Lenese live in absolute confidence in their industriousness and scientific knowledge, and why when you ask a Rumelian about the god whom they worship, they could speak of him for days and days without ever stopping for breath.

References: Psalm 82:1, Philippians 2:6-11, John 3:5, John 1:47, Matthew 10:16, Mark 14:58

Photo of Snow Bunting by: Charel Klein (

Thursday, November 26, 2015

You have never left my side

You have never left my side.
You were there in my darkest hours,
When the Tornado-demon hovered by my ears,
Convincing me that I have been left utterly alone.
That I was worthless dust, left by the wayside,
That my friends have fallen away
And all that I can look forward to is for the next storm to pick me up
And scatter me into the cornfields of Nebraska.
But I know that not all my friends have fallen away
Because the ones that remain have become my support.
In my heart I know, though my emotions had withered to the bone,
And consigned themselves to the realms of the Damned,
That you are present in every Tabernacle;
That in every feast I taste the fruit of your goodness
And work of your hands;
That whenever the demon should incite me
To close my doors from my brothers and sisters,
I should throw them wide open.
And so let this worthless dust be scattered into the prairies
Let it tell of your succour and help.
As my feeble senses fail, so shall your glory fill the lands
Down to every canyon and dank alleyway;
Lasting joy in the face of grief.
Ach, let it be so.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Postgraduate Journal 3.12.6

Faithside: This semester has actually been pretty good on my side, despite the emotional low point miasma that stuck around when the semester started and I hauled ass right back to the school residence. Part of this is because I resumed my old practice of joining daily mass in the church across the road from my residence hall. I first joined (and committed to) daily mass in a panic during a particulary severe depression pang when I was working in Nebraska, whereafter the affliction was cured within two weeks. For this I credit the very reassuring presence of Jesus in the tabernacles and also the connections that I have built with members of the Nebraskan and Singaporean faithful who have stayed by my side and have been real champs. In November the church remembers the faithful departed and I have found joy in telling people the story of Tina and keeping her in the realms of the remembered. I am also especially grateful to Amanda and co. and their newly-fromed Ubi Caritas group in Yale-NUS College, a place where the spirit of rigorous enquiry and willingness to tackle big scary questions of faith has been nurtured and maintained. Guys, if you are reading this, I heart you all; this semester is gone too soon!

In other news, (1) daily Rosary was instated on the NUSCSS side, to the point that a small group of us, myself included, are doing it out of sheer force of habit. October was the month of the Rosary, not November, but it does not seem to matter any more to the diehards. (2) I have started a three-year programme of marking daily readings in the bible, because I heard an extraordinary claim that church readings cover the entire bible in three years, and I just have to see if that is really the case.

Scienceside: I have now a co-supervisor from Physics, a very kind and agreeable old professor dude, and am now caught in the thickets of computational physics. I actually prefer being snagged in the brambles of calculation than sucked into the quicksands of experimentation. One reason for this was that experimental people I have had to work with seemed to have scant interest in finding out how things actually work, and seemed to be bent on making things work by sheer power of will and by working themselves into a state of delirium (in which case anything at all can be thought plausible). The more important reason was that I sucked at experimental work while at the same time was passably good at calculation, having dabbled in computational techniques since my undergrad days. But even then, calculations sometimes don't work, and in fact at this moment none of my projects are working, and I have increasingly found myself compelled to cram undergraduate theoretical physics in order to understand the inner workings of my software, with its myriad weird error messages, (contra)indications, and acrobatic tricks.

I have been taking a course where I have learned to do computational physics from scratch. It started with some simple linear algebra and then swiftly degenerated into a mad scramble to write a working program with C that does high-powered stuff like Quantum Monte Carlo and the Metropolis Algorithm on Ising models and Schrodinger Equation solvers. Sad to admit but sometimes I fail to produce a working code (the Hydrogen molecule project has been especially disastrous), and the physics students are all pwning my arse at every turn. But I am positive, because my stated mission for this PhD adventure is to punch way above my weight, and this semester shall be no exception.

My first attempt at Monte-Carlo