Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Commentary on Psalm 42

Psalm 42 (English Standard Version)

To the choirmaster. A Maskil[a] of the Sons of Korah.

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?[b]
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation[c] 6and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock:
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?"
10As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"

11Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Psalm 42 is a profound and beautiful poem that succinctly encapsulates the spiritual life. It begins very appropriately in highlighting the flaming heart and impetus of man's spiritual quest: the inexorable thirst for the living God--the yearning for the eternal perfections that nothing but a divine Love and Life can satisfy. Throughout the Old Testament, the encounter with the God of Israel is likened to a divine feast and celebration. Again and again, the Israelites are invited to "taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" (Psalm 34:8). And the necessity of a single-minded hunger for God is emphasized tirelessly. Thus are the Israelites commanded above all to 'love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). And thus did the prophet Isaiah (55:1) cry out in words suffused with divine desire:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

The fourfold 'come' expresses not so much man's desire for God, but God's thirst that we may thirst for him. For the increasing revelation of God will finally reveal that it is not so much we who love God, but it is really God who love us, and that 'God is love' (1 John 4:16). As St John explains, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

Indeed from a Christian perspective, the death of Christ on a cross is the supreme sign of God's yearning for an estranged humanity. The Son of God is also the Lamb 'who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). It is this sacrifice that tears apart the veil (Isaiah 25:7) which blinds those who 'loved the darkness rather than the light" (John 3:19). It is this cup and baptism (Mark 10:39) that frees men to seek God with burning hearts. It is at this culmination of utter self-giving that Jesus fulfills the profoundest yearnings of Hebrew spirituality and his own words of supreme invitation:

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." (John 6:35)

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38)

For the mountain of the cross is where the eternal banquet is inaugurated, where the words of Isaiah are fulfilled in their deepest sense:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Even more profoundly perhaps, in that moment of supreme sublimity, the Son of God and the Son of Man cried out, 'I thirst' (John 19:28)—revealing the consuming Love and naked Jealousy that thirsts for us, and the corresponding thirst for Him who alone satisfies. It is at that moment that the primordial thirst of man becomes one with the divine thirst of God.

Psalm 42 is surely right in describing how the journey to God, this journey fired by an implacable flaming in one's thirsting heart, is one of spiritual night and day--of the Cross and the Resurrection. When 'deep calls to deep', when aspirations wing upwards in prayer and call, sometimes only dreadful silence sounds. No rain of fire falls, the voice of consolation is mute, and there is no light or power or vision or love--just dryness and an endless desert, where we ask together with the Psalmist, 'When shall I come and appear before God?" And if we are brought to the uttermost abyss, then even Christ's desolate words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34), must be our own.

In the spiritual nights sustained only by the song of God, "a prayer to the God of my life", the Christian, like the Psalmist, must continually seek the grace to manifest one's faith, ceaselessly urging oneself to believe, to hope and to persevere:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Your will, not mine, be done (Matthew 26:39)—in the dark night, Christ’s sublime prayer in Gethsemane must become the soul's own anthem. In utter dryness, one must cling on to God with a burning heart and will, not running far as we are tempted to do, but staying close to Christ crucified, seeking him still and fulfilling his will. For when night falls, the light of God dims, but still burns hidden-- an occult but sovereign Presence in our inner parts.

Yet as almost every seeker of God eventually discovers, the Divine and his servants are unfortunately not our only companions in the night. Instead the night can be full of claws, possessed of menacing dreams and fatal emissaries from shadowy kingdoms. The Psalmist laments his 'deadly wound', the 'oppression of the enemy':

My adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"

This refers superficially to the voice of unhelpful men but from a spiritual perspective, our real adversaries could only be the "the rulers..the authorities...the cosmic powers over this present darkness...the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12), that stalk the manifold worlds behind the physical veil. These forces vehemently resist every step towards God and figure in various incarnations in diverse religions and mythologies. In a type of modern mentality, scoured clean by an austere materialism, belief in the existence of these beings is seen as a foolish conviction born of archaic superstitions.

If only this were so. The truth of the matter is quite otherwise, and the dawn of the spiritual sun in one's heart quickly attracts not only God's grace, but also the hostile opposition of dark beings who seek through temptation and falsehood to overthrow us. In the Psalm, the temptation is towards despair and doubt; in our moments of frailty, in a lonely quest through an interminable desert, these false lights whisper, touch or even enter into our beings, implanting tendencies and suggestions that bear fatal fruit if they are not firmly rejected. The archetypal accounts will be Christ's temptation in the desert, where he withstood evil, and the fall of Adam and Eve, where they yielded to the serpent's deception.

In its full extent, the power of evil is enormous, even having a seeming semblance to infinity-- and it seems strange that mere human beings can withstand the assaults of this mighty empire(s). Yet as the gospels clearly show, Christ has full sovereignty over the forces of evil, and this authority is to some degree transmitted to his disciples. The twelve apostles were actually given "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases" (Luke 9:1). And later to the seventy-two disciples who were sent out before him, they were promised the authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy' (Luke 10:19).

Clearly the power to resist the infernal hosts resides in those with faith in God. The quotes above probably refer mainly to the gift of exorcism, which is perhaps quite rare. But in most circumstances, victory in spiritual warfare does not involve words of power, blasts of mighty energies, extravagant explosions and fierce sword fights in the ether--instead the main power needed is something more humble, yet no less potent: a true and sincere heart. Ultimately all temptation tests our loyalty to God's will and our sincerity in moving towards Him. We can see this most clearly in the temptation of Christ:

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4But he answered, "It is written,

"'Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

"'He will command his angels concerning you,'


"'On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

7Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

"'You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.'"

11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him."

(Matthew 4)

Temptations are often made palatable with fragmented truth and spurious justifications, as could be seen in how the devil twists even the word of God into an instrument of evil. Worse, temptation occurs often at our weakest points and moments, where our desires are already half-inclined towards doing what evil suggests: notice the devil tempting Christ to create bread only after a 40 day fast. In the case of the Psalmist, the temptation towards doubt and despair is in a situation that is probably extremely bleak--the equivalent of a spiritual fast.

And temptation often starts small, in a seemingly reasonable way, where the sinfulness of the proposed course of action is often far from obvious. Satan did not descend with his full infernal glory and boom at Christ to 'WORSHIP ME!'--not at first anyway. Instead, he counsels, like a good friend, the perfectly reasonable course of eating when you are starving. After all, he seems to tell Christ, in addition to your obviously groaning stomach, if you are truly the sovereign Son of God, the Word above all things, what can't you just do what you want? Surely it is your imperial right? Yet if Christ, like us in many situations, were to yield to the smaller temptation, he will be in much poorer position to face off the rest. It is a terribly slippery slope, and utmost vigilance is necessary in the spiritual life where it is unfortunately true that "the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:14).

Yet despite all the difficulties, a sincere heart true to the will of God, something that all human beings potentially possess, is the main thing that allows Christ to fend off the devil. Being the supreme Word, he no doubt could have exorcised the devil with a glance, but he chose to defeat the devil as an ordinary man, not as God. In all three temptations, he refers with full faith and sincerity back to the fundamental truth that the duty of all human beings is to trust God totally, to serve him, worship him and love him only. It is his total commitment to the divine will, echoing and completing the 'fiat' of Mary, his mother: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38), that allowed his Mission to be founded on eternal Rock.

And ultimately that is what God asks for, and that is what will tide us through every temptation and night. Far from demanding the impossible, God asks for something much simpler, a fidelity and courage and truth well within our capabilities, and gives all the grace necessary for victory. And despite all the inevitable hardships, battles, terrors and wounds of the spiritual war, God who is love permits all these only because the gain is eternal and totally exceeds the transient suffering. Nothing is more certain than that the Father of all love does not pile on heavy burdens, scorching thirst, manifold weaknesses and terrors if they do not lead to a far surpassing joy.

As St Paul points out, 'the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us' (Romans 8:18). Indeed the nights of sufferings and temptations are but transient: curative and creative, they constitute the crucifixion and mystical death necessary to destroy 'the body of sin', one's old and corrupted being, so that 'we would no longer be enslaved to sin' (Romans 6:6). On the other hand, the growth and perennial resurrection of our immortal spirit and inner being, of 'the inner man that is renewed day by day' (2 Corinthians 4:16) is an everlasting daylight never to be taken from us, a ‘pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:46, KJV) worth all sacrifices.

Moreover, the deeper the Cross the greater the Resurrection: "everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48). God bestows exceptional crosses on those whom he chooses to give his greatest and rarest gifts. Reassured of this, even in the darkest night, we can say with St Paul that 'neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Romans 8:38-9). Every night leads to a greater day, and even in the 'valley of the shadow of death' (Psalm 23:4), God walks close.

Thus if we cling on in faith, trusting inexorably like the farmer that 'waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains' (James 5:7), there will be an increasing and transfiguring union with God in one’s immortal parts. This can take many forms, for the Spirit of God manifests differently in each person, depending on one’s nature and destiny. We have this classic summary by St Paul:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12)

St Paul also ranks the importance of the various gifts:

28 God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12)

It is beyond the scope of this article and the ability of the writer to describe all the gifts named here. No doubt as St Paul points out, no one will have the same gifts, or the same ways of manifesting God. Those with a contemplative bent will probably be given the gift of prophecy--in the wider sense of being empowered to hear the word of God, see visions, and indeed sometimes to develop an inner touch, taste and smell as well. This gift is by definition well developed in the prophets of Israel, and the faculty of vision appears to be more prominent in some (e.g. Ezekiel and Daniel). St Paul also seems to describe the gift as being a faculty of general supernatural knowledge: "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge..." (1 Corinthians 13:2). In the widest sense, this gift can be described as a sharing in 'the mind of Christ' (1 Corinthians 2:16).

The prophetic gift is primarily useful in revealing God and his will more and more--to know "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). The more common results include a serene Love and Presence that guards one's heart, a blissful Light and Truth that blazes in fire, raining from above, of the Face of Christ revealed in humility in the Bread of Communion and in the heart of all things. Through all these, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

We see in the prophets of the Old and New Testament how this gift can also involve a supernatural knowledge of all things in general, and thus the gift of the 'distinguishing between spirits' could perhaps be considered a narrower variety of the prophetic gift. Probably this talent mainly involves the revelation of the nature of spiritual beings, their characteristics, allegiance, functions, powers and names. Thus for some, the inner vision will reveal not only God, but his ministers: the winds and flames of fire (Heb 1:7) and messengers of the Holy Spirit--their splendid, humble and mysterious actions, their hidden commerce with our bodies, minds and innermost beings, their potent presence that moves the tides of the ages. In the most unlikely places, one will find them, these wondrous fingers of the Hand of God, and behold their diversity, unity, wisdom, power and love.

If this faculty is well developed, it could be a very powerful aid in spiritual warfare--incidentally it will go very well with the gift of exorcism for it reveals not only angels, but also their opposites.

Yet whether it constitute the full gift of prophecy or not, most seekers of the invisible God will tear more and more the veil shielding the supra-physical behind and above the physical. For a rare few, what is unveiled is what was seen by Jacob, who 'dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!' (Gen 28:12). Christ, who is the Way (John 14:1) to the Highest, incidentally appears to identify this ladder with himself, when he told Nathanael that "you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:51).

These fortunate souls are the high contemplatives of Christian history, who like St Paul (see 2 Corinthians 12), somehow become aware of the seas of splendor that mysteriously reside above our inner beings—and through grace, ascend. From the mountain of mystical literature, I will quote only St Augustine's famous account:

'And I entered and beheld with the eye of my soul (such as it was), above the same eye of my soul, above my mind, the Light unchangeable...He that knows the Truth, knows what that Light is; and he that knows it knows eternity. Love knoweth it. O Truth who art Eternity! and Love who art Truth! and Eternity who art Love! Thou art my God, to Thee do I sigh night and day.' (Confessions, Book VII)

Such ecstatic visions, where one feasts in full resplendence at the table of God, beholding in clarity "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6) can be part of an intense spiritual day. Yet when we come down to it, every Christian should know that the primary goal of the spiritual life is increasing oneness with God; the ultimate goal is to abide wholly in God, and as St John puts it succinctly, "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16). Love must grow towards perfection if we are to fulfill Christ's supreme commandment to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34) and to love the divine Father with the love of his Son.

To be spiritually fruitful, every gift, spiritual or natural, must be exercised more and more in love and for love--the greatest of God’s gifts, and the primary goal of every action and every thought should be for the service and growth of the Flame of Christ that must increasingly alchemize, penetrate and divinize our whole being. Thus as St Paul puts it in his immortal words:

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing...13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Love is "the alpha and the omega" (Revelations 1:8) of the spiritual quest. It is the flame of thirst that goads us, the cross that kills and transfigures, the glory and resurrection that renews our being with eternal life. God is a banquet of infinite perfections: the highest wisdom, power, beauty--whole universes of riches, but the heart of them all is love. In love, we lose ourselves and find ourselves anew. Only in Love can we know who Christ, and we ourselves, truly are.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A simple post

After the complexities of Atlantis, perhaps it is time for a humbler post. By now the regular reader of this blog (if any) will no doubt detect a rather unearthly* tone in most of my posts--especially in my belated fiction. One might ask: why not write about something more "practical", something more "down-to-earth"! Perhaps I could fulfill the desires of such folks by churning out treatises on "Interest Rate Management and the Philips Curve" or "Purchasing Power Parity and Foreign Exchange Determination". Or perhaps something really exciting concerning "The fall of Byzantium and the rise of Modern Europe".

However these are things the curious reader can peruse elsewhere, and from authorities no doubt much more knowledgeable than myself. Even if there are certain odd opinions that I have of these fields, I may not want to share them (immature etc.), or for some reason, could not share them. Hence, the still small voice concerning these matters.

I stick quite firmly, as the reader can see, to a metaphysical and religious orientation in most of my writings. While you can indeed find countless fine and excellent tomes on economics and history, equivalent works on metaphysical issues are in fact pretty rare. In addition, much of this literature is conflicting and difficult. Indeed, for all my readings over more than a decade, I have TRULY covered probably only a small part of this territory. Thus in my blog, I hoped to cover something more unique and unappreciated.

To show the scope of my ignorance and the vast scale of metaphysical research, here are some of the 'occult' or metaphysical fields I know very little about:

Hauntings and ghosts (except for some legends of old Chinese High, like the green and cheerful beaming eyes of Tan Kah Kee. If our school truly possess a Guardian Angel (the Hwa Chong spirit!), I wonder what he thinks about our endless ghostly frettings? Or we have mistaken HIM for a ghost? Poor HC.)

Vampires and pontianaks (I heard of some leaping about in the Botanic Gardens at night, but I never ventured to confirm it for myself)

Werewolves, Dragons and most monsters--excepting those from Hell.

Astrology (know the rudiments, but that's all. I also do not feel any need for it)

Alchemy (only know the rudiments. Not sure whether it is very profitable to turn lead into gold. Economically speaking, successful alchemy will cause the price of gold to fall severely due to greatly increased supply and collapsed demand (gold is no longer a rare metal). Lead prices will rise due to vastly increased demand, and prices of both commodities will converge in a process determined by their respective demand and supply. Probably the eventual price of gold will be somewhat above that of lead due to the costs of alchemical conversion, but regardless, price-wise lead and gold will become virtually identical.

In conclusion, to turn lead into gold will reduce gold into lead. Of course there is a spiritual aspect to alchemy, but YYY knows much more about this field than me)

Feng-shui (it will be interesting to know where exactly is the elemental Dragon's Head in our school. I would like to drop different things on it and see how it affect our school's fortune)

Witchcraft (I read some books on Wicca in my teenage years, but found the stuff uninteresting and somewhat childish. I have a feeling that some of the spells and rituals probably can work given the right will and impetus, but still the gains are meagre and the costs high. Or is it just my prejudice?)

Necromancy (I have some interesting encounters at a Wayang show once, but do not care to find out more)

Celtic Druidry and that kind of thing

Fairies and mermaids

Shamanism (I read a book called 'urban shaman' during my teenage years. Again, like the wiccan book, superficiality is the problem)

Voodoo and aboriginal religion in general

Hermetic and Egyptian magic (I have read some books on them, but found them singularly unattractive)

Blood and sex magic, demon summoning and such.

You might lament my stubborn, arrogant and bigoted prejudice against all forms of black magic and what I deem to be "inferior mystical systems"--especially those that must be greased with handshakes with petty, invisible beings.

Now, I believe that many of these systems that I am arrogantly contemptuous about can actually work. Given the right 'mantra' or spell and concentration of mind, faith and openness of being, I have no doubt that the 'petty, invisible being' in question will come and perhaps do your will. But at what cost? Not many realise or believe that the ecosystem of the invisible is indeed very diverse and extremely interesting--and not always for the right reason.

But anyway, here are the fields I do know more about:

Buddhism (Mahayana, Theravarda and Tibetan)--I researched Buddhism for 4 years during my teenage years. I think I could still remember the main concepts.

Hinduism (especially the writings of Sri Aurobindo, the Tantras (not the sexual rites or the kama sutra, thank you), the Vedas etc.)

Christianity (obviously, since this is my religion)


Dungeon and Dragons and mystical/religious systems in some other fantasy worlds (Tolkien's, Robert Jordan's etc.)

The 'Micro' fields (these areas often find expression in the fields above):

Angels, both fallen and upright

Mysticism and spiritual experiences

The power of the word

Most of the stuff from which I draw my posts will come from the above. To be sure, these are already vast and varied fields and are more than enough to churn out exotic posts. Still one's ignorance, even of the latter fields, far exceeds one's knowledge. The more one knows, the more Newton's saying truly resonates:

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Reading Guide to the Atlantean Series

The various Atlantean posts in chronological order:

20,000+ BC-18,000 BC
The Atlantean Origins

12,000 BC-11,000 BC
The Fall of Atlantis

21st Century
Jerusalem (short story)
Ugly Duckling (Part I and II) (short story)

Background Information:

Atlantean Agriculture and Religion
Atlantis, Genesis and Christ (on the Biblical influences for the Atlantean series)

Some general comments:

The various posts are scattered throughout the blog from mid 2005 onwards.

There are countless allusions to the Bible and to the history of Atlantis in 'Ugly Duckling' and 'Jerusalem'. The more enthusiastic reader will probably want to read the first two historical posts and the book of Genesis. Part II of 'Ugly Duckling' is the most difficult post with the most unusual style.

Ugly Duckling (Part I and II)

"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together."

(Genesis 22:1-4, 6-8)

Part I

Enoch was flying far above a dark windswept plain. A fortress towered skywards and high walls soared near.

It was the dream again.

The citadel had haunted him, entrancing him with its surreal and implacable splendor. Seamlessly crafted from a single mountainous block of multi-colored stone, its lyrical rock arteries raced sinuously upward, softening harshness and lifting one’s sight to an inexorable height, where a second sun blazed fiercely with diamond white flame. But Enoch did not avert his eyes—for the searing fire invited his heart like the cozy hearth of a forgotten home.

Rays of seven hues interweaved with flame, stretching hundreds of meters from the orb. They danced playfully to a hidden tune, capering off the numerous gem-like windows that adorn the building and its walls. Radiated by this symphony of light, the building was a rainbow flame that soared aloft the wave-like walls.

Vaguely Greco-Roman and oddly modernist, Egyptian in parts, yet Far Eastern in its sweet organic harmony—its elemental beauty fused stubborn opposites and transcended intolerant categories.

What kind of civilization will endow a mere fortress with such splendor?

Then Enoch turned around. He knew what he would see.

An immense multi-colored cloud choked the horizon—the out-stretched wings of a cosmic raven. As it approached, he could make out thousands and thousands of flying and crawling things that dotted the sea, sky and earth. Machines that incarnate the insanities of the abyss, they were seamlessly wrought with fluid, organic curves and beautifully clothed with something that looked distinctly like flesh.

And unlike the monotonous bombers and tanks Enoch was familiar with, these machines were each unique in some way. Some looked like twisted vultures or serpentine dragons, some like giant insects and spiders—yet others were almost sweet, like doves or turtles. This spectacular, diverse and obsessive artistry made it obvious that this invading force, however filled with the menace of evil, hailed from the same root as the Tower of Flame.

This was a civil war. A splendid civilization was ripping itself apart.

Then the Nightmare came. For in the midst of the invading swarm was a huge statue, a skyscraper of hell covered with an unbelievable amount of blood, a mountain of flesh—compacted corpses, as far as Enoch could make out—with a massive blood-red Eye on top. This orb burnt with the splendor of darkness visible: devouring, insane and perversely sweet. A fatal chant emanated, a hymn of eternal hatred that rose in stabbing crescendo.

As if on cue, thousands of comet-like projectiles roared hungrily from the infernal machines of earth and sky—an innumerable pandemonium that rushed towards the doomed Tower…

Enoch awoke.

"Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

The words of Macbeth reverberated in Enoch’s mind as he brushed his hand against the thorny rose bushes of the sky garden. The thorns ripped his skin and dull blood sluggishly oozed out. Enoch focused on the pain, drinking it in.

Was it real? He was not sure anymore. And what could it mean?

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!"

He gave a sigh as he felt a fiery life enter his palms from an immense reservoir just beneath his spine. It was white and alive, and every nerve in his palm blazed with it. He somehow knew his wound was being healed at a supernormal rate.

What was happening? He asked himself—again. What could this thing be? This force that had suddenly manifested a few months ago, exploding up his spine to his brain, pouring in a fiery flood from above--and turning his inner world into a kaleidoscope where thought and vision were etched in flame? And with it had come these strange waking dreams.

And worse: Enoch closed his eyes, feeling the strange and resplendent force that permeated his whole body. But it did not stop there. The fire stretched out from him in all directions. He could feel the plants around him burning with the same essential radiance, though much lesser in degree. He could feel a cool shower, brilliant and crystalline, pouring down from the moon and the stars above. He could feel a couple of lovers some distance away, flaming in the heat of passion. And he could detect the serpentine lightning that coursed incessantly through the building’s electricity grid.

He was mad. Or possessed. Neither possibility was appealing.

When he was a very young child, he had dreamt of a beautiful lady in white. She was holding a rose. Behind her was a river and there was a garden with three swans. He had woken up in the darkness, just as his alcoholic father barged in with a belt.

His father left soon after, never to return.

Enoch then roamed the nameless alleys like a beast, stealing and begging for his daily bread. Then one day, he came: Moshe Levi. Even now, Enoch knew little of him. But he was the man who would touch his heart and give him a new life.

With authority, Moshe called Enoch's name. And trust was born in his dead spirit. Enoch did not ask how Moshe could have known his name-- somehow, as dawn charms the heart, it was right and fitting that it was so.

Enoch was brought to a beautiful house in another country. The best food, clothing and education were made available. But Moshe said little. He never explained why he chose him from among the thousands of street children in that urban hell. Nor did Enoch ask, for he was too awestruck in the presence of his foster father. After all, Moshe's worldly power alone was awesome: head of a world girdling business empire and an influential counselor to the rulers of men, there were few who did not defer to him.

Yet even more intimidating was the mysterious majesty that cloaked Moshe. Even during that first meeting in the dark, Enoch knew he stood in the presence of a king—and one with unfathomable authority. Even after 3 years, Enoch still shrunk from his foster father in fear and shame, painfully inadequate in the face of such splendor. The wounds of his tortured childhood had never fully healed.

And Moshe was seldom around. He always disappeared for long periods without any explanation or warning. Enoch remembered his first night on Moshe’s private plane. By coincidence or design, Enoch’s only companion was a book: ‘The Ugly Duckling’, for Moshe had remained behind in the city. It was a month later before he would meet Moshe again.

The 3 years had passed quickly. Such is time when joy is abundant. For the first time, Enoch lived. He thrived in school, albeit only academically. Still haunted by the shadows of his past, he avoided his schoolmates, spoke little and made few friends. He preferred to watch and observe—that was his gift.

It was precisely because he saw so clearly into Moshe’s true nature that he was afraid.

But now Moshe was dead. How was it possible? He…could not have died, Enoch reasoned. Yet he had. The news had come a few hours ago: a bombing of some kind in Jerusalem, the charred body of Moshe in the middle of a burning Al-Aqsa market, condolences from around the world. Moshe’s butler had sent him immediately by helicopter to the headquarters of Shalom—Moshe’s holding company in London.

But still something was wrong. Enoch could feel it in his heart.

It was the same voice, the same power that had touched his heart in the darkness. But this time, Enoch could not see Moshe. Yet his presence was no less palpable.

‘Father!’ he cried.
‘Do not be afraid or sad, Enoch. I have discharged an ancient debt and am now free.’
‘ But you are…’
‘This is simply a change of clothing, my son. That is all. By the mercy of God I have returned home and my mission is done. Now yours has begun—though you must first survive. Hurry now to my office at the basement.’

Enoch looked around. The headquarters of Shalom was immense. Where was the right elevator leading to the office of the chairman? And why was it at the basement? Even the sky garden looked like a maze.

Then instinctively he knew what to do: reaching out with his senses, he touched the electric flame that girded the building—revealing its design like a schematic diagram.

Enoch was soon at Moshe’s office. It was large but rather Spartan, with few furnishings and a rather uncomfortable looking alabaster chair. There were however many Egyptian artifacts from Moshe’s art collection—including the bust of a handsome looking Pharaoh.

Before Moshe had left for Jerusalem, he had given Enoch a small wooden box and some cryptic instructions to open it ‘at the right time’. Presumably the time was now. Taking it out from his pocket, Enoch tried to open it but found that it was securely locked.

‘Go to my desk and place the box on the seal in the middle’

Enoch walked to the desk. It was completely empty except for a desktop computer and some files. What seal?

‘Look not with your eyes of flesh, but with those of flame.’

As these words penetrated his heart, he suddenly noticed that there was a small current of energy flowing continuously within the surface of the desk. Concentrating his mind, he noticed that the paths of the current formed a distinctly clear picture of a sunburst with seven rays.

His heart stopped as he recalled the orb on top of the Tower.

‘The Tarasha, Enoch.’
‘What is that?’
‘You will know soon enough. Now do as I say.’

Enoch placed the box on the seal. It immediately clicked and slipped open. In the box was a stone, with a sunburst of seven rays on one side and a chalice with 11 feathers on the other. As he looked at the chalice, he had a strange feeling that he had seen it before. As he thought deeply, suddenly he found that he was no longer in Moshe’s office.

He was in a waking dream again.

He was in a vast chamber, with high pillars soaring like ancient trees. Towards the far end of the chamber was a large carving on a wooden wall—of a chalice with 11 feathers.

‘Sir, the sea fortresses could hold them no more! As we speak, the soil of Tarasha Lehe is already defiled. And soon…’

Enoch could see a group of strange looking men and women in seamless brilliant robes. A stern and hawk-eyed man in armor was addressing an old man in white. Somehow Enoch could understand their language perfectly.

‘My lord,’ a matronly woman had stood up, ‘Salem, 5 legions and the army of Ram are all that stand between the Traitors and the cities of the valley. Even the great Rock, even our best soldiers, even our valiant allies, cannot hope to fight off a force of this size—especially when it is backed by that Abomination.’

The old man sank unsteadily into a white chair, his grey head bowed low. There was a deathly pause before he slowly lifted his eyes—eyes that somehow reminded Enoch of the Tower’s flaming orb.

‘What does the Senate suggest then, Ferinei?’
‘We have the means to stop them, sir!’ The hawk-eyed man was speaking again. ‘The stones of flame are our only hope!’ As he said this, he suddenly lowered his head. Tears had quietly streamed down his battle-hardened face.

A terrible silence descended.

‘Hope, my friends?’ The old man paused, as if weary, but his voice was empowered with authority like that of Moshe.

‘It is not hope. Not for our civilization. It would destroy the Traitors and their abomination. But it will not save us. The world will plunge into darkness for thousands of years. All that our ancestors have built for 20,000 years will be lost.’

‘But what is left? Our homeland is now an abode of hell! Egypt and the Chinese nations, children of the motherland, are no more. Only the kingdom of Ram stands, but if we fall, it will fall as well. Tarasha Lehe is mankind’s last hope.’ The matron had stood up again, her voice strong and resolute. Many nodded wearily in agreement.

‘Senators, mark this well,’ the old man spoke softly, but mountainous force had been effortlessly interweaved, ‘Tarasha Lehe itself will not survive the use of the fire-stones. Why do you not understand, Ferinei? The sins of our nation are too heavy--too heavy! The sacking of Abra Lodesh, the massacre of innocents, the construction of the statue of Moloch—we have treacherously betrayed our God! If we, the last remnant, the faithful of Tarasha Lehe, commit bloodshed of this order, it will doom us. This will be the final abuse of the Atlantean Flame.’

Suddenly Enoch saw a vast network of fiery energies surrounding the whole chamber. And in the heart of the fire, he saw three stones blazing with illimitable power.

Part II

‘Behold Salem—the seven hued Rock that cleaves the darkness.’

The voice was Moshe’s and his word was fire. The Stones vanished as Enoch’s vision soared into the ancient dawns of a young humanity. Salem loomed, and in its Fire, Enoch saw the despair and glory of the dying Atlanteans. He saw their broken spirits uplifting the earth, their unrelenting holiness warring with fatal guilt—and in their final fiery triumph, he saw how they sealed their doom but saved the world. Surveying centuries with the sweep of dreams, Enoch plunged ever deeper into the memories of a forgotten earth.

Enoch saw the descent of the Atlantean Flame onto a pure desert people. He saw the primeval sages of humanity, burning with wisdom and power, inspiring ages of splendor. He saw the Exodus, the voyage of faith through the western seas and the settlement of the Atlantean motherland. He saw the forging of the Stones. He saw a tremendous ten thousand years of civilization, knowledge and power. And in noontime glory, Enoch saw the abrupt darkness that murdered the light.

Moshe’s word flamed in impetuous ecstasy and Enoch’s vision exploded—a kaleidoscope of whirling time gave way to sudden omnipotent Peace: in sovereign silence there was a Word, and the seven hued Glory that shines in all shone in Enoch’s heart.

Enoch had returned home.

But he could not enter. A gentle but implacable force held him aloft. He basked in peace and joy and light, but Enoch knew this was but the penumbra of the divine Fire, a mere foretaste of the divine bliss. There was a vehement thirst in him to tear apart the barrier.

‘Do you really wish to do so?’

The voice was feminine and sounded vaguely amused. It was coming from within the Fire. As Enoch looked, one part of the Fire coalesced and formed the figure of an old woman. She gestured with her right hand and a stern blue fire blazed harshly before condensing into a multi-faceted diamond with swirling threads of implacable light.

'You have seen the past, flame-child. Now witness the future—as much as the Lord will permit you. There are many paths, yet in them all, Justice demands the eventual doom of man,' she said simply.

Enoch stirred uncomfortably. He looked into the diamond light, gazing into the tapestry of time.

‘After the flood, humanity rose again from darkness, lifted by an eagle’s light that fired his spirit. Over the ages, his knowledge and power grew, till he could ride the winds and the waves, exploit the ciphers of physical life and mind, and command the atomic fire.

Men grew mighty, but their spirits faltered. They could weave the flame of the stars, but not the fires of their hearts. Beholding the cosmos, their minds could encompass eternity and put forth infinite wings—but the immensities of their own beings they know little, and worm-like, they plunder the barren surface. Like the ancient Atlanteans, they gained the world, but lost their souls.

Thus will their imagination and power and knowledge turn against them. For they know, but not truly, their power is but a shadow. Helplessness and terror grow with mastery, and the blessing they seek is their doom.

And in their moment of greatest need, when power grows apace, fatal blindness devours the light of our innermost hearts. Proud idolatry, hard-hearted disbelief--darkened embers of fanaticism strangle the failing spirit of man.

Thus will fire and darkness, plague, war and mechanized horror blossom, the dark rose born of man’s angel mind, bloodlust and beastly greed. Such is the word of Justice, flame-child, such is the fate of proud and idolatrous man.’

The fearsome voice sank to a whispering breeze.

Then a second voice arose. An old man, flaming white and rosy hued, stepped forth from the heart of the Fire. He shook his head and waved his hand. The diamond vanished. Enoch gazed at him as he weaved blue fire to form a round sphere. The sphere ascended, and swirled and turned into a storm. Then from far above came an overwhelming rosy flame that calmed chaos and enforced peace.

'Old woman, there are powers at work in this fallen age that exceed and redeem our greatest art. You know that. You yourself sacrificed much for that cause,' the old man said softly.

The old woman said nothing but looked down. Then she whispered sadly, 'I can only pray that it is enough, my friend. We cannot fail again.'

The old man turned to Enoch with his flaming eyes. ‘Justice is divine, but it is not the last word. For the Lord is love and mercy and peace.’

‘Yet grace rejected brings forth severest pains,’ the old woman added sadly.

‘But grace accepted stays the hand of justice and brings forth mighty fruits. And grace, Enoch, is what you must choose. You must choose to incarnate grace.’

‘Incarnate grace?’

‘ Look within, Enoch.’

As the words penetrated, Enoch suddenly saw an immobility hewed from living flame, a conscious power of diamond light upholding a frail human front with titan gaze. The fiery mass formed a being and two familiar eyes looked into his.

‘What is that?’ Enoch whispered.

‘You, Enoch,’ the old woman was speaking again, ‘you who came from the Flame and is free to return—even now.’

‘But that is what you must not do!’ the old man’s voice was gentle but filled with storm, ‘ the potential power and wisdom that stands behind you exceeds even that of Moshe’s! Your foster father is the last of the Guardians and the mightiest. But in a mysterious way you cannot fathom now, that which stands hidden behind you is an equal of the ancient Melchis who forged the Stones.

If you choose rightly, your power and knowledge will become a vast light that battles the darkness. You and those who follow you, will delay or perhaps even stay the hand of death. The seed of a new Atlantis will be planted, and it will blossom in the centuries ahead. The new light will break the fall of the old.’

The old woman shook her head. ‘But fail, Enoch, fail and the twisted creations of your hand shall plague the earth and help seal the doom of man. And the old man has yet to speak of the terrible sacrifice:

Death and doom and evil you must fight, but first within yourself. In your own flesh and mind and spirit, you must taste the corrupting shadow of the dark Atlanteans, the traitors who built the abomination of Moloch and doomed their world. You must confront a filthy vileness within yourself—a force that perverts all and enslaves your being to darkness.

And you must engage in this battle without the power and knowledge that are rightfully yours. Your bright prophetic vision will fail. These glories you now see will vanish from your sight. No more will you hear the voice of Moshe, your only family, or taste the bliss of the Flame, your home. No more will you see the inner stuff of things or the splendor of the inner worlds. No more will be you be moved by a transcendent Might from above.

Grim, hard earth will be your lot—for you must share the fate of the fallen humanity you wish to serve. You must drink, and drink deep, of their misery before you can alleviate it. That is the law of grace—the law of solidarity and of love.

Even your human intelligence will be injured by confusion and ignorance. You who love knowledge will be bereft of it, and your weakened reason will climb painfully on the steps of fragmented truth. You who wish to bring the Light must first taste the ignorance that blights the frail minds of men.

And you shall be lonely, a hidden swan, an ugly duckling unknown, unfathomed and distrusted by those around you. Moshe will be gone from your view, and you have to put on a mask to face the world. Love will be shallow, fleeting and friendship always precarious: not till the end of your ordeal will you find those who are truly able to know you--and love you for who you really are.

You will know yourself. You will see the being of flame. But you will not enter, nor will you know how long you must bear your cross. Even Glory will be a torment.

So, child, do you still wish to walk this path?’

There was a silence, the stillness of a windless, lonely night. Then Enoch asked, ‘What is the alternative?’

The old man looked at him and said sadly, ‘Do you really wish to know Enoch? In the coming night, it will make your burden heavy. But it is your right.’

‘I choose to know.’

‘Then so be it.’ The old man lifted his hand and far above him, Enoch saw a Fire, splendid with truth, vehement with righteousness. It crashed down, a resplendent torrent blissfully tearing open his mind, his heart and body

Enoch again saw the titanic immobility behind him. This time however, the diamond-fire knifed forward, violently conquering his widened being.

Enoch and the child of fire became one.

He saw an ocean of light, and it was himself. His old self—memories, intellect, body, desires, pains and pleasures—had become strangely small and unfamiliar, like sordid ill-fitting clothing put on for a child’s party. The Knowledge that was now himself smiled at the theater of his life. Adamantine peace guarded a vast symphonic wisdom that instantly comprehended the meaning of his seemingly random journey.

A Voice called from far above. An inner voice answered and mountainous might surged lightning-tongued from an ocean heart. Enoch ascended, a rippling blaze of immensity soaring to the peaks of vision.

He ascended the mystic ladder, soaring above the multitudinous kingdoms of creation. Still above, and closed to his still unworthy sight, was the mystery of God’s original splendor. Enoch knew that this summit border world between God and His creation was somehow his home--his rightful seat. He could stay and return no more.

‘Behold the Poetry that built the worlds.’ The voice was that of the old man, but infinitely enhanced in grandeur and beauty.

From the still Light came a small voice, a soft musical ripple--then Words immense arose, lamps of fire pregnant not merely with sound and faint idea, but surging with a universe of meaning and sealed with flaming Truth. Each seemed the very heart of a world, a supreme beat guiding a dance of infinite bodies.

Two blazing spheres filled Enoch's consciousness: One reigned in implacable white, outstretching harsh, clean wings of cleaving light--a furious, all-seeing, all-powerful Truth that compels all things to be as they must. The old woman stood within, transfigured in terror and majesty. It was the Word of Justice, the song of Righteousness.

Another was a Rose-flame, a calm and serene majesty, rippling sweet and intimate. It was peace, a night of joy on a mother's bosom, the all-embracing splendor and bliss of a hidden smile. The old man stood, royal, with eyes filled with suffering earth and the far supreme joy that broods over all pain. This was the Word of Grace, the song of Peace.

Many more Words arose, but they concealed their oceanic meaning and power and revealed only their barest surfaces. Enoch knew intuitively that the more he saw, the deeper will be the coming night.

The old man spoke again.

‘From this song, Enoch, the primeval Melchis framed the language of our Art, the poetry that forged the Stones and overthrew the kingdoms of darkness. The Atlantean tongue captured in its entirety the archetypal forces of this high world, this first- born kingdom of all creation.

For the ancient path of the Melchis was a way of knowledge--not the knowledge that could only figure truth with a symbol but stop short of its living heart. Behind all creation stands the Word. He is One and there is no other, but infinite are his Faces, his seed-Potencies that guide the symphony of the worlds.

For the Lord is love and justice, night and day, fire and wind, earth and sea, might and wonder, mystery and truth. These are his bodies and He is their song. We the primeval Melchis ultimately sought to know only one thing: the Word of God and his Fire--for to know Him is to know all things truly.

Yet few men are interested even in ordinary knowledge, not to mention the wisdom in which one knows as one knows oneself. Truth is mostly pursued as a tool to feed a mass of hungry desires. Few are those in whom the flame of knowledge burns purely.

To compound this, our Way is one in which aspirants do not storm the gates of heaven, but surrender to God in faith and patiently await his grace. Faith, surrender, patience, truth--these are valued by few, difficult for all. Thus few are those who are worthy to become true Melchis. Even those who truly value knowledge often rely too much on their own wills and minds, lacking the faith to sincerely say, 'Here I am, O Lord. Do with me as You will.' And then there are the dark nights when the Atlantean Flame burns in secret, the crucibles of pain when the Flame transforms our being, the unrelenting struggles with the forces of evil--these are great hurdles in the path of the aspiring Melchi.

Yet for those who faithfully and resolutely tread this Way, the rain of righteous Truth and Love shall fall, and one's being becomes a temple of the growing Flame. And with true knowledge comes true power. When the Melchi knows the Powers of creation as his own self is known, it is normal for him to be granted the authority to command creation like his own being. This is true authority: not the superficial machinations of the later Atlantean mages or your technologists, but an invincible and direct power over nature that is rooted in one's spirit and bestowed by grace.

The prophet Melchizedek, our royal torch of faith, righteousness, wisdom and power, was the greatest of those who walk this path. A whole generation of Melchis followed after him in the long days of our wandering. But by necessity, the impulse began to fail in the centuries after the Settlement. Thus we forged the Stones, but this desperate bid failed to perpetuate the line of true Melchis. The glorious seven-hued Flame could not abide in a race attached to the shadows, only mere figments could stay--thus did Atlantis reached a high perfection but not the true.'

Enoch pondered the old man's words. In blazing clarity he weighed the claims of Grace and Justice. After a timeless pause, a musing garden of eternity, he spoke,

'Has humanity changed for the better? If the transfigured race of the Stones could not receive the Light, when even they could fail and plunge the world into darkness, how could Grace transform the desperate and oppressed men of this age? You ask me to leave this place and its bliss. But I have tasted the horrors of earth. I have taken on burdens that burn my being and crush my bones. I have no one below. I see no hope below. There is only darkness.

You ask me to face all these to help others. Perhaps--part of me says yes. But I ask to know the true will of God. His Righteousness has already spoken, and His word is that I need not--should not choose to return.

And I do not want to return.'

There was a chilly hush. The old man lowered his head and spoke no more. But from the Fire, there came a third and familiar figure: Moshe Levi. His figure was compacted of fire and his eyes shone with peace. Lifting a flaming hand, he pointed downwards.

Enoch saw the earth. His attention was drawn to the land of Egypt. There he saw a foul cloud that was racing in all directions. He understood it to be Moshe’s ancient crime and the consequences that had followed. It was this sin that had bound him to the earth even as the other Guardians had departed.

Then Enoch saw the innumerable seeds of light planted in all the main civilizations of humanity—the deeds of power and love that Moshe had done for countless individuals and nations over the ages—including him. And in most of these cases, no one even suspected the true cause of their blessings. They were anonymous, done without any expectation of reward. And he saw the pity Moshe showed even to implacable enemies. Then he saw all these seeds flame up and spread in all directions, drowning out the darkness Moshe had unleashed before linking together in a vast field that covered the earth.

Then in that sea of light, Enoch saw one shining adamantine star: it was himself.

And Moshe came forward and took Enoch into his embrace. ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abide alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit.' Love embraced death, that men may truly live.’

‘You ask me to follow you?’

Moshe nodded. ‘The Fire shall leave you, but faith will still burn. Stay firm, and reject the darkness that will seduce you to become its joyful slave. And an omnipotent Love will fall one day, and your inner being shall flame not just with wisdom and power, but also the Joy that transcends everything--both justice and grace.'

As he said this, in the far forbidden sky, the dark throne of mystery stirred. An infinite Light, a sky-wide oceanic Fire descended. Vast as Enoch had become, he was but a faint flicker in this torrential sun.

From this Omnipotence came a human face. Humble eyes of homeliness, like those of his mother long ago, like those of his father before he changed, like those of Moshe--pierced into Enoch from unfathomable depths. Enoch felt a closeness with this distant Infinity, a total intimacy never felt before with anyone else. He felt an embrace without arms, a total safety in a dark night of love, a tender kiss that touched the pain of the world and his deepest heart.

Then came a quiet Voice.

"I am He, Enoch,
the light of justice,
the fire of truth
the beauty that flames
in your eyes.

Your pain is mine.
Barren joys and loneliness,
Burdens and heavy darkness,
These I share and make my own.
In your brokenness,
I walk close.

I am the Lamb of God who takes away all sins,
the High Priest of the order of Melchizedek,
the everlasting Word,
your friend.
Be not afraid of a passing desert,
for you are always in my embrace.

I shall bring you back to the living waters.
I shall bring you deep into my heart of Peace.

Come, and follow me."

Enoch stayed still. All was fulfilled. All power, knowledge and glory seemed small and trivial, compared to the simple fact that one is loved, and loved eternally by One who is totally true and faithful. The Secret is not in the hurricane, the earthquake and the fire, but in the still small voice that says 'I love you.'

There was an inner war, an eternal moment's pause. Then came a whisper, a soft but resolute reply:

'I will trust you, O Lord.'


The prayer call sounded from the Dome of the Rock as the last rays of the crimson sun were swallowed by the encroaching night. The ancient sands rose in swirling dream and murmuring winds swept the Old City, mingling the songs of the Koran with the cries of the Hebrew pilgrims and their Prophets. The city of peace, Jerusalem, sank into sultry slumber as hard light from a thousand markets, churches, mosques and synagogues pierced yearningly into the empty sky.

The Night has begun. Enoch looked up, stone heart crying into silence.

Friday, September 08, 2006


A silver eagle rose, wings out-stretched across seven hills. Above, a vulture soared, then another and another. The eagle grew mighty; kings and nations prostrated and became its slaves. As the third vulture flew, four letters flamed in majesty beneath the eagle’s wings: S.P.Q.R.-- Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Senate and the Roman People). The seventh vulture soared into a blood-drenched sky—the implacable eagle had crushed the nations with its iron claws. All submitted or were obliterated. Riches grew, culture, religion and learning flourished in its fearsome wake. Terror guarded peace, a ruthless martial song a tranquil symphony.

Four more vultures flew. The invincible eagle, full of glory and strength, faltered. Its flaming fire became uncertain. Darkness swarmed from the North, strangling it. The eagle fell, crushing the seven hills, its life fleeing away. The final vulture soared--the twelfth. The eagle screamed as it was eaten alive by clawing flames…

Romulus Augustus awoke, screaming.

The twelve vultures of Romulus
Father of Rome
The twelve centuries of Rome
Then her hour.

Was the ancient prophecy true? Romulus Augustus, Caesar, Emperor of the Roman Empire, rose slowly from his bed, perspiration drenching his tunic of seamless Egyptian cotton. Anno Domini 455, the twelfth century of Rome was almost over. And so was her reign.

A huge Vandal fleet was fast closing in on Ostia, Rome’s port. Romulus Augustus chuckled bitterly at the irony: he was named after the founder of Rome—Romulus, and the first Emperor of Rome—Caesar Augustus. And now he will be the last of their line. Are mortals truly the playthings of the gods, or God?

Yet it should not have ended this way. Rome was no longer Babylon the whore—she was the New Zion, the center of the new Christian faith that should have brought peace, not fatal catastrophe. Was Rome to be judged for her ancient sins? Could it be divine justice that the Vandal fleet had sailed from Carthage, which Rome had once razed to the ground? But is not the true God one of forgiveness and love--One who is slow to anger and rich in mercy? Why, why then?

Romulus buried his face in his rough soldierly hands and wept.


Romulus raised his head. It was Theodoric, the captain of the Praetorian Guard--the personal bodyguards of the Emperor. Theodoric, like most of his men, was a German ‘barbarian’ who had converted to Christianity. Distinguished by over twenty years of unwavering loyalty to an often-helpless Emperor, Theodoric had taken over the reins of the Praetorian Guard five years ago.

‘Yes, General Theodoric, what tidings?’ Romulus asked gruffly as he rapidly blinked back his tears.
‘Sire, Geiseric’s Vandals have landed in Ostia. The two legions that should have guarded the port have fled.’
‘Fled? Fled! They have abandoned Rome? Without a fight?’
‘Yes. General Titus and Claudius were the first to flee. Not surprisingly, their centurions and mercenaries have followed suit.’

Theodoric reported all these emotionlessly, as if resigned to such cowardice. Romulus slowly rose from his bed, a dread, cold fist gripping his gut.

‘Then Rome is defenseless.’
‘Sire, you must leave the capital immediately. I have prepared…’
‘No, Theodoric, I am Rome. If she burns, I too must share her fate.’

Theodoric paused, a faint gleam of tenderness in his eyes. Romulus had been his general before he became Caesar. He had always loved Romulus for his courage and fidelity—qualities so rare in the degenerate Roman race.

‘If you live, Sire, Rome lives.’
‘Rome does not live in the bosom of a coward. I have not reigned as a Roman should, at least let me die like one.’

Romulus stood up—hard, still and filled with a desperate strength. He ignored the clawing, gnawing sorrow that rended his insides, and resolutely removed his imperial ring. Then he unlocked a drawer and took out the imperial seal. He gazed at the letters--S.P.Q.R. and fought back tears. He then clasped the hands of Theodoric with an iron grip.

‘My friend, my dear friend, take these safely to the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople. This is Rome’s, and my last command. You are henceforth released from your duties.’

Theodoric fell to his knees and looked up to the old misty eyes of his sovereign.

‘No, my lord, you must come with me. All is not lost; we could take back Rome and drive out the Vandals. You must not die!’
‘Take back Rome? It is but a cadaver. Her spirit has long died. You, of all people, should know that.’

Theodoric lowered his head, silently grim.

‘Theodoric, you are more Roman than any Roman—courageous, strong and most importantly, free. Dignitas, maiestas, auctoritas, libertas populi Romani--the dignity, majesty, authority and freedom of the Roman people. Where is all that now? The future belongs to your people, Theodoric. Now endure the unendurable—for Rome, if not, then for my sake.’

‘But you must…’
‘Theodoric!’ The voice was a command now. ‘Go!’

Theodoric rose, soldierly again, but his voice was forced and filled with pain. ‘Then my lord, I bid you…farewell.’ Theodoric took the ring and seal, saluted and left.

The Emperor went over to his window. The horizon was red—drenched with old blood. The flames of Ostia or of Rome? Or the dawn, perhaps? He chuckled at the thought. The Night had come; a swarming barbaric darkness, and only the Lord knew how long it would last.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and the fragrance of Arabia filled the room. He turned and looked into the eyes of Olivia, his wife of forty years. With a passion born of death’s embrace, he kissed her deeply and tenderly on the mouth.

‘Olivia, you are still as beautiful as that young girl I once knew in the vineyards of Capua.’
‘And you, Romulus, are still as headstrong and foolish as that mad young lad of long ago.’
Romulus smiled, ‘And see where my foolishness has landed us now?’
Olivia sighed softly as Romulus ran his hands down her soft silks, one of the final batches from the East. She was cold, trembling with passion and fear. Already the first distant screams could be heard. The Vandals had entered Rome.

‘Is all truly lost?’
‘Yes,’ Romulus whispered, lowering his head before continuing, ‘I have lost the world and now I may have lost my soul. I despair, Olivia. Why, my love, if God is true, then why this? Why?’
‘Subtle, subtle is the Lord, my friend. Perhaps we share the fate of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. They perished in burning Troy, but Aeneas their nephew founded Rome—the city that would outshine Troy and rule the world.’

Romulus raised his eyes, thoughtful and silent.

‘But who is our Aeneas?’
‘Who else could it be?’

Then Romulus understood. The wisdom of his wife liberated what he had already perceived deep inside. Romulus looked at the map of his Empire—or at least what it once was: stretching around the Mediterranean, from Britain to Dacia, North Africa to Mesopotamia, with Rome in the middle. Seemingly in a waking dream, or a vision of grace, he again saw the dying eagle atop Rome’s seven hills. But this time, instead of anguish, it was at peace. As flames consumed it, tongues of glory rose up and shot forth, touching many parts of the collapsing Empire. Like branches from one vine, these grew, till they covered the earth. The darkness that strangled the eagle triumphed, but only for a time, before being swept away by a dawn exceeding the light of fallen Rome.

Rome will be the mother of many nations and her faith will be the sovereign of their hearts.

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,’ Olivia quoted, as if reading Romulus’ mind.

Romulus smiled and whispered with a quiet joy in his old heart, ‘Subtle, subtle indeed is the Lord.’

(1326 words)

Historical information:

Romulus Augustus was the last emperor of the western Roman empire. However he did not perish in the Vandal sack of Rome in 455. The imperial seat had also moved away to the fortress of Ravenna some time ago. Romulus Augustus did not come to a heroic end; he was simply fired by a barbarian king in 476. Historical liberties have been taken in the story above.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Legends of Singapore (fortunately incomplete)

Maybe we could title this--How not to write a short story (Jerusalem will be the positive example). I could not get myself to finish the parody:

About 100 years ago, there was a young Malay boy by the name of Utama. As his name would indicate, he was none other than the 7th generation descendant of Sang Nila Utama himself--the one who saw the Lion. One day, he was walking by the beach of Changi when he heard a strange whisper from a nearby banana tree. He staggered backwards, his heart thumping in fear. He had heard legends of pontianaks haunting such trees...

He screamed as a boy's pale head appeared from the tree.

'Utama, be not afraid!' the specter howled thunderously.
Utama froze in petrification.

The head smiled a toothy grin before continuing:
'Behold, I am here to bring you good tidings. I am none other than the clever boy who advised the Sultan to plant banana trees along the coast of Singapore--the one who was stabbed by that jealous creep and the one whose blood made Red Hill Red!'
'You...are a ghost!'
'Of course! What else could a talking head from a banana tree be? But I am here not to curse you, nor to suck your blood--though I am very much deprived of it--but to bless. I am here to reveal to you your true destiny! And you can trust me. Surely you know how smart I am?' said the ghost, winking at him.

Utama breathed in deep. He had dreamt of this. He had dreamt last night that someone, something, will come and reveal his true life's quest.

'Go to the beach at Clifford Pier at midnight. There you will be told what to do.'

Thus at midnight Utama went obediently to Clifford Pier. There were some coolies resting around, smoking opium. Suddenly a cold wind blew and the coolies collapsed asleep onto the ground.

A lion's head popped out of the sea.
'Hi, I am the Merlion.'
'Am I so ghastly?' the Merlion asked, rather annoyed, 'but it's alright, Sang Nila had the same reaction. I do miss him. He was really a handsome prince.' The Merlion smiled wistfully.
'Aren't you supposed to be a lion?' Utama asked suspiciously.
'The top part yes. I am slightly mutated--a uniquely Singaporean organism that blesses these waters. My boy, one day my statue shall adorn this place! This is a sure prophecy. And my mouth shall spurt rivers of fresh water into the salty sea!'
'Is that what I am supposed to do? Raise funds to build a statue for you?'
'Oh, no, no. That will happen by itself. I will send a dream into the head of some rich and important man..Your mission is to rescue my egg.'
'Your egg?'
'As you can see, the lower part of my body is that of a fish, and fish lay eggs! It is part of my unique evolutionary heritage.'
'Um. Ok. So where is your egg?'

'Hidden somewhere in Bukit Timah hill for the last 700 years. Indeed, that was what I was doing when your ancestor saw me. It wasn't exactly dignified: I was laying my egg, squeezing it out with some difficulty, when this nice handsome young prince pounced onto me. Oh!'
'Surely you know where it is?'
'Actually I don't. I sort of wondered away with the handsome prince. After that I could not locate my egg anymore.'
'Are you sure the egg still...exists?'
'Of course. Don't you know that a Merlion egg can survive temperatures of up to 10,000 degrees (that, by the way, is the temperature of the sun!) and is able to smash diamonds!'
'But Bukit Timah is so huge! Where am I to find it?'
'Tomorrow, something important is about to take place in Bukit Timah: a group of goody old men will survey the hill to find a wastefully big spot to build a school. My feminine intuition tells me that they are going to build it right on top of my precious egg! Can you imagine that?'

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Punic Wars (Incomplete)

Originally intended to finish this months ago--but lost interest. Maybe will finish it in future:

Few people in the world today know or care much about the 2 great wars of classical Europe—the Second Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, and the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Though they are remote in time and involved only relatively small numbers of people (by modern standards), it is no exaggeration to say that these two wars had historical impacts equal to that of the two World Wars. To put it simply, if the outcomes of these two wars had been different, the whole course of human history would have been dramatically altered.

This article will briefly describe and comment on the Punic Wars. I will leave the Peloponnesian War to perhaps another article.

Most people know vaguely about Roman civilization and its motifs—legions, gladiators, Caesars, togas, monumental architecture and of course, the very idea of Empire. Few however appreciate how the world today is still very much shaped by the legacy of the long fallen Empire. Let us consider a few examples.

The great European languages that now encompass the globe, whether French, Spanish or English, are descendant languages of Greek and Latin—the two main tongues of the Roman Empire. And our modern political and legal systems are very much shaped by the Greco-Roman philosophy that was taught and transmitted by the schools of the Empire. The very word, politics, derives from the Greek word, ‘polis’ (city), and the word Republic, from the Latin ‘respublica’. And of course, democracy is derived from the Greek word ‘demokratia’. And both the Parliamentary system and the Presidential system of governance have Greco-Roman roots.

In the religious field, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church will not be what they are without the Roman Empire. Indeed, there would almost certainly be no Christian Europe without the Roman Empire. And without the classical learning preserved by the Eastern Roman Empire, Islamic civilization will not be what it is. To give just one example: the architecture of mosques, with its domes and minarets were derived from late Eastern Roman architecture.

In short, the word will be an extremely different place today if Rome had not conquered Europe, North Africa and the Near East to forge one of the greatest Empires in history.

And yet it was never inevitable. One of the most crucial moments in history was when Rome and Carthage entered into a life-and-death struggle for supremacy over the Western Mediterranean—the 3 Punic wars. They ended in the total victory of Rome and made her the supreme power in Europe. From then on, the path to Empire was clear. Yet it could well have turned out otherwise.

By 264 BCE, through centuries of warfare, most of the main powers in Italy had become the subordinate allies or colonies of the Roman Republic. By a generous and shrewd system of extending citizenship and a superb system of alliance management, she could tap enormous manpower reserves of up to half a million men. Yet she lacked the technological expertise of the Greeks and could only besiege fortified cities with great difficulty. More importantly, she was primarily a land power and had no substantial navy. Economically, she was also not extremely wealthy—she was primarily an agricultural power and while the lands of Italy were fertile but they hardly like the plains of Babylon or the Nile delta.

Carthage too was a Republic like Rome. Both city states were in fact renowned in classical times for their extremely stable constitutions. Some Greek philosophers, like Aristotle, attribute such stability to how the two city states mixed the elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. For instance in Rome, the Consuls embodied the elements of the monarchy, the Senate, that of aristocracy, and the Tribunes, that of democracy.

But other than this one similarity and the fact they were both great powers, Rome and Carthage were practically the antithesis of each other. Carthage was perhaps the greatest naval power in Europe. She was after all founded by Phoenicians settlers (in Latin, 'Punic') from Tyre (in present day Lebanon). Rome on the other hand was the supreme land power of Italy, but had little to no naval capacities. It was the classic struggle between the elephant and the whale. Yet the Punic wars were interesting precisely because the elephant would learn to swim and the whale to walk.

The first Punic war started in 264 BCE, when

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Awful Daybreak

Introduction: As a supreme negative example, I recently wrote a piece incorporating some of the worst possible features of a descriptive essay. Enjoy. =)

How not to write a descriptive essay

It was quiet. Then there was a stirring, rippling and tinkling as night shivered uncontrollably in freezing cold fear. Fear! Horror! Terror! For her end was near! I could hear her loud howls as she wailed and tore her hair with her black cloudy claws. The temperature dropped so low that polar bears would flee in terror and ice cream would transform into delicious diamonds.

Rain fell from heaven! Tears! O! The queen of the dark was weeping dark soggy tears, flooding the earth with slime. The Niagara was a mere drop in this flood; nay, it was the universal deluge—it was as if the Amazon, the Nile, the Yangzi river and the mighty Singapore River had all gathered into one supreme, unstoppable, invincible, incredibly ocean-like, tremendously awesome, wondrous flow!! Owls, her children, fluttered like cute butterflies in wild abandon, while she—the fat queen of the abyss—shrieked and ran across the heavens with a ripped dress; her footprints scattered randomly and the resounding thunders burst a million eardrums and car windows.

O! O! But she had no place to run. Her eyes opened wide. Once so powerful, once the demonic ruler of the dark, she whimpered as her last tears ran dry. Her worshippers held their breath for an hour—in fear and awe. Her empire was at an end…She hung herself in despair from a rope tied round the moon.

As Plato said, ‘Humankind is war’. Yes and all is war, war! Conflict is the grandparent of all things. Yes.

The mighty God, muscles bulging till it cracked his golden armor, burst up from the horizon in a flash. A thousand trumpets sounded from behind from the flocking crows and swans that heralded the Majesty. The whole earth groveled and millions fell down prostate to worship the Power that was matchlessly invincible, omnipotent and supreme.

I was in rapture, in ecstasy. Golden joy burst like the Amazon from my feeble heart, filling my heart and roaring out from my mouth, nose and forehead. My heart burst into life like a tropical jungle; monkeys, peacocks and birds of paradise seem to multiply and fill my heart with their beastly songs. I also burst into mighty song as the Spaceship of the Sun, the great Alien One, filled the sky, burning up all impurities in men and beast alike. The Incinerator Supreme, the Cleaner Invincible suck up all dust from our souls like a Divine Vacuum Cleaner and blast life into the rocks which stood up and started a tap dance.

Indeed, as Einstein said, ‘incineration is the source of all life’ and as Shakespeare puts it, “Rubbish is the rich soil from which all fake quotes arise’. Such immense profundity can only be appreciated under the sweet caress of the muscular Shakespearean sun.

The valleys shook and buildings tumbled down as the earth shook, dancing and waving her hands to welcome her Sovereign. I stood up screaming my praises of the sun. Daybreak!!!! E=mc2!!! Nuclear Fire that consume the world! Yes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Blessed Bread of life
Broken and crucified.
You who bear
The bloody lash and wear
A crown of thorns above a shattered
Son of God and Son of Man,
You share in your sinful brother's load,
And walk close to your broken people.

For You are one with us in our suffering
You are one with us in our death.
You turn our pain into healing,
Our failures into greater

Broken and ever living
Lamb of God,
Jesus, Wheat divine
You died to bring us life
For you are Love,
The good Shepherd who leads those
who hate you
and kill you,
to peaceful waters and pastures green.
You bring us to your house,
Anointing us with Life.

Bring us ever deeper into
your Heart divine,
O Lord.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Anyone vaguely familiar with the Bible will know about the miraculous phenomena associated with the long line of Jewish prophets and with Jesus and his disciples. To give some examples: Moses struck Egypt with ten plagues and split the red sea. Elijah called down fire from heaven and raised the dead. His disciple Elisha raised the dead, cleansed a leper, split the river Jordan and multiplied food. Joseph, Samuel and Daniel predicted the future with pinpoint accuracy. And of course, Jesus displayed unprecedented mastery over death, disease, demons and the elements. He also died and rose from the dead.

Fascinatingly, Jesus promised that “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12). In the book of Acts, we certainly see his disciples performing miracles as a matter of routine.

In modern times, people have of course grown more skeptical about the miracles of the Bible. David Hume the empiricist philosopher famously condemned miracles as impossible acts that ‘violated the laws of nature’. But blanket denial is hard to justify when 2000 years of Christian history have produced records of countless individuals who were able to do what the early disciples of Jesus were able to do. In the Catholic Church for instance, canonization of saints is dependent on whether the saint can produce authentic miracles after death. Many of these saints were also routine miracle workers during their lifetime.

The best-known example is St Padre Pio, who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002. During his fifty-year long ministry, he worked thousands of miracles that are exceptionally well documented. These include reading the inner thoughts and sins of others, bilocation (being in various places simultaneously), prophecy and healing. And even the most scrupulous skeptic cannot deny one of the miraculous phenomena associated with him: the stigmata. He, like St Francis of Assisi 800 years ago, was marked with the five wounds of the crucified Christ for 50 years. Every Friday, these wounds would bleed copiously and yet he managed to live without ill effects to a ripe old age of 81.

In the Pentecostal and charismatic Churches, miracles of healing, prophecy, tongues and even the raising of the dead are widely reported. A prominent figure in these denominations is Smith Wigglesworth, who had a long list of miracles attributed to him over his 30 years ministry (1907-1936).

So how are we to view all this? I think our attitude towards miracles will largely depend on the circumstances and situation of our lives (or God’s plan for the person—depending on how you look at it). People from charismatic backgrounds will no doubt be much more open to miracles than many Protestant mainstream Christians. After all the gift of tongues is asserted to be practically universal in these churches (or at least among those who have received the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’). Also many in those churches will claim to have witnessed even more dramatic miracles (fire falling from heaven, healing, prophecy etc.). Thus charismatic Christians will typically see the miracles in the Bible and the miracles of later Christians as being perfectly possible.

Catholic Christians are also very much open to the possibility of miracles--though for different reasons. No one (at least I have never witnessed it before) speaks in tongues during a Catholic mass. But a central tenet of faith in the Catholic Church concerns the transformation of the communion bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ during every mass. This is obviously a miraculous act and can only happen with the direct intervention of the Spirit of God.

In addition, for 2000 years, the Catholic Church has witnessed and recorded saints of all sorts who have worked numerous miracles during their lives and afterwards. Padre Pio is only the most recent (though he is one of the mightiest and certainly the best documented). Also bodies of many saints (like St Catherine of Laboure) are ‘incorrupt’; meaning they do not decay even centuries after their death—a powerful testimony to the Spirit of the resurrection that had touched their lives.

For myself, I have no doubt about the possibility of miracles either in the Bible or for Christians in general. The main reason for this is that by God’s grace, I have witnessed my share of miracles. As testimony, I will share two incidents here, though I emphasize that they are only the tip of the iceberg. As always, the identities of the people concerned are kept anonymous:

On September 10, 2001, I was talking with this friend who had the gift of vision and prophecy. While talking, she saw the angels Michael and Gabriel. They told us that there’s a new breed of ‘flying devils’ (exact words). I was of course quite puzzled and even amused—after all devils are always depicted in art as having bat-like wings; so why are flying devils anything spectacular?

On my questioning, the angels repeated what they have just said (or something like that, I cannot remember exactly) and added that they were in battle against the flying devils. In this spiritual warfare, they have managed to pull down a number--but they said that some have gotten through and escaped.

Both my friend and I were of course thoroughly perplexed by this vision.

The next day, on September 11, 2001, I happened to meet the person again at around 1740 (Singapore time—I remembered the clock exactly) for dinner. While eating, the Virgin Mary appeared to her. There happened to be a wilting rose somewhere near the dinner table and in the vision, Mary was holding a burnt and dead rose in her hands. She told us that the rose had been burnt-- ‘burnt to the very roots’. I was again confused: I mean the rose on the table was wilting but surely it was not turned into ashes! But Mary looked extremely sad and after a while she disappeared (I think we also talked about some other thing—but I cannot remember now).

Of course just three hours later at around 2100 (Singapore time), terrorists crashed two jet airliners into the World Trade Center towers and another into the Pentagon (incidentally I visited these places just 3 months ago). As I saw the towers crashing down to their foundations, the rose that is ‘burnt to its roots’ and the earlier vision on ‘flying devils’ came to my mind. Indeed the time when I was talking to my prophetic friend was probably when the hijackers had just boarded their doomed vessels.

And initially Osama Bin Laden planned 8 attacks. And yet mercifully only 3 planes hit their targets. The others never took off, and one of them, United 93, was literally brought down to the ground by the heroic passengers—recalling what the 2 angels had said about their victory over some of the ‘flying devils’.

In addition to predicting the catastrophe in such striking fashion, both visions hint at the deeper spiritual realities underlying the events of the world. For instance, it appears that events like September 11 are shaped not just by external physical realities, but also by the conflict of spiritual forces behind the background. The war between Gabriel and Michael and the flying devils seem to precede and shape the outcome of the day’s catastrophe. As such, human actions (like prayer and sin) that aid or hinder the forces of God play definite roles in shaping the destiny of the world.

The other rather chilling truth concerns the burnt rose. My intuition is that the rose did not refer only to the doomed WTC towers. The rose is an archetypal symbol of love and God’s grace. Specifically, I think it links back to the 1917 Fatima prophecies (Catholics believe that in 1917, Mary appeared to three Spanish children and gave a series of prophecies and performed certain spectacular miracles). One of the prophecies stated that there will be a ‘period of peace granted to the world’ after Russian communism has collapsed. I think the burnt rose could well symbolize the fact that the period of peace has ended—murdered by the sins of men.

Indeed, since that day, anyone following the evening news can see how the world has been plunged into greater and greater bloodshed. The sacrifices of Moloch have set the world aflame once more.

The second miracle concerned a person I know who went with his family to the island resort of Langkawi a week before the Christmas of 2004. In fact they were originally due to go on Christmas day (and stay there through Boxing day), but the person wanted to go for Christmas service and managed to persuade everyone to go earlier.

During the trip (or sometime after it—I cannot remember exactly) he had a dream where he was standing on the shore of a beach and there was a huge black cloud floating offshore. Ferocious blasts of lightning were hitting the sea and the storm was rapidly approaching. The person was somehow rooted to the ground and watched as the furious storm swept in, blasting the earth with lightning. Somehow, miraculously, the person was left untouched and the storm moved on. Then he woke up.

On Christmas Eve, the person had another dream. Two angels (more precisely one angel in two forms) appeared to him. These angels were science angels. They showed him on a computer screen (or OHP screen or whatever) a large lump of earth hitting the sea floor. Huge waves were rushing in all directions from the impact zone. The angel[s] said only one thing, ‘This disaster could only be prevented by science.’

Of course, a day after Christmas, there was a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean and killer tsunamis devastated the nations of South East Asia—including the island resort of Langkawi where the person and his family had been only a few days ago. Indeed, if they had followed their original plans, they would probably have witnessed (or be swept away) by the tsunami. As in the first dream, he had narrowly escaped from a massive disaster.

Also sometime later, newspaper articles report that a tsunami warning system like that used in the Pacific could have greatly reduced the monstrous death toll of 200,000 people. As the science angels have said, science could have prevented (or more accurately, ameliorated) the disaster.

It appears that the guardian angels of science are quite concerned that their gifts are used well by their protégés (presumably the scientists of the world) and the people of the world.

So are there such things as miracles? My personal answer is a resounding yes.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Machine shall Inherit the Earth?

It is a strong consensus among many scientists today that man is but a biological machine; different in substance but not in essence from the computer that is in front of you. Thus when faced with the primordial war with death, disease, ignorance and immense human misery, it is logical to many members of the technological elite to advocate a ‘transhumanist’ final solution: where the root of all human misery is traced to the limitations and problems of our randomly evolved biological hardware, and where the prospective nirvana concerns a systemic ‘upgrading’ to achieve a vastly superior and ever-improving post-human body.

For those who firmly believe in some form of materialistic monism, and who stridently equates the human being with the human body—the transhumanist impulse surely represents the final triumph of our (merely) human rationality and redeeming technologies. Death, where is your sting indeed, in the face of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and nanotechnology. Even if mere homo sapiens fail or refuse their transfiguration, there is always the transhumanist Singularity, the true Apocalypse when the mighty machine matches and then exponentially exceeds the prowess of the puny human brain. Thus will the true Gods be born, the incredible and superhuman intelligences that will establish a true and invincible dominion over the forces of Nature.

And the post-human, freed from all biological imperfections, will emerge victorious over death and all suffering. After this, these new Gods must naturally purge the earth of the unworthy ones who have refused to partake of the Tree of Life, or at least put them in their proper place as the failed relics of evolution. Thus the Machine will inherit the Earth. And woe to those who dare to think otherwise.

Thus says the transhumanist gospel.

Some transhumanists may claim that the above represents an extreme version of their creed. Indeed, most transhumanists do not advocate a cleansing of the earth. But many do recognize it as a pretty inevitable consequence of the emergence of a superior species. We need not look beyond the extinction of homo erectus and Neanderthal man after the appearance of homo sapiens.

Indeed, evolution is anything but a sweet process; yes there is collaboration and altruism within social species and sometimes there is mutualism between species. But war underlies the process of evolution. Those who are best able to use the scarce resources of the universe inevitably crowd out or relegate to irrelevance any competing species in similar ecological niches. Of course post-humans might eventually become energy beings that fly off to live on the sun, but in the short term, competition, war and even genocide are probably inevitable. And in such a conflict, transhumanists have little doubt about the outcome.

Some transhumanists may also argue that the post-human could well be a kinder and sweeter version of the human being. Perhaps. But who’s to stop other transhumanists from creating demonic versions of the human being? Since when have we NOT misused our technologies? And the sweetest post-human have to defend their fledging communities in order to survive. And self-defense could easily take on a pre-emptive spin.

Thus utopian visions of a fuss-free emergence of new post-human species and civilizations alongside our own is quite simply that—utopian and practically impossible.

More importantly, what if transhumanism itself is based on a terrible delusion? The great world religions are surprisingly unified in their analysis of suffering. Buddhism, Hinduism and the 3 monotheistic religions attribute human misery—so pervasive, deep and terrible to even a cursory observer—to one simple thing: human evil. Buddhism and Hinduism may call it bad karma, and Christians, Muslims and Jews might call it sin, but we intuitively understand what they are talking about. And they are similarly agreed that the way to true joy consist of putting an end to the perversity of sin.

Some might quickly point out how these religions appear to have quite different definitions of sin. Christians kill cows without qualms while Hindus see it as a mortal sin. Similarly Hindus horrify Christians and Muslims with their caste system and supposed polytheism. Jews and Buddhists do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the sole savior of the world, while many Christians see such disbelief as a sure road to eternal hell. So what is evil? What is good?

There is obviously no simple answer to this age-old question. Christianity shapes my personal answer, and I believe that we should define evil not by legalistic ‘Thou-shalt-nots’, but by whether certain actions or thoughts take us spiritually closer to God: that which brings us to closer communion with the Fount of all life, goodness and joy is good. That which brings us further away is evil and sin. But there might not be clear-cut rules for all men in all circumstances. The best guide in an immensely complex world might not be a code of good behavior but the Spirit of God in a pure heart and mind.

This may sound to some like a post-modernistic denial of absolute truth and right. But that will be nonsense. Obviously I do believe in absolute truth, but that truth is God himself and it is also divine Love. And I see no reason why the expression of divine love and truth can ever be cast into a dead mould. I think the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God’ should consist in the unpredictable and yet perfectly regulated action that result when we manage to connect with the Spirit of God and obey him.

And I also believe the closer we are to God, the clearer our vision becomes and the more perfect our actions become. And this perfection, or holiness, as Christians put it, will in turn facilitate an even deeper journey into the heart of God. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ says the Psalm. It is through spiritual journey that we appreciate the resounding truth of the Biblical teaching that human beings are made for God and can never rest till we enter deeply into the joy of God. It is also when we have developed the taste for God that we are able to understand why being cut off from God is truly the essence and foundation of all suffering.

From a spiritual and Christian perspective, the transhumanist vision is aptly described by a verse from the prophet Jeremiah: “They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:12-14). If the true cause of suffering is man’s isolation from the living God, the transhumanist ‘solution’ is utter folly. Indeed in its presumptuous hubris of seeking to become ‘like gods’ without God, it perfectly re-enacts the primordial fall of Adam and Eve. Perhaps the just consequence will be humanity’s exile from its technological Eden. Thus instead of ascending to the heights of immortality, man may well descend through catastrophe to the level of beasts.