The State of Virginity

The State of Virginity
I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided. The virgin - indeed, any unmarried woman - is concerned with things of the Lord, in pursuit of holiness in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has the cares of this world to absorb her and concerned with pleasing her husband. I am going into this with you for your own good. I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Saturday, May 29, 2010

THE CASTLE OF LOURDES

The town of Lourdes is dominated by its castle. Lourdes is very proud of its castle. The immense fortified castle perches on a high rocky promontory overlooking the town. Because of its strategic position, the castle played a prominent role in the past. Its origins dated back to when the Romans first used it as a military encampment. With the passage of time, the castle was gradually enlarged and fortified until it became virtually impregnable. For centuries, it was an indomitable witness to bloodshed, violence and destruction.

During the middle ages, the castle was called "Mirambel". The year 406 saw the invasion by the Vandals who proceeded to massacre the aged, women and children, razing to the ground everything they found in their path. In the VIIIth century the castle was occupied by the Saracens after their defeat in Poitiers. In 778, Charlemagne laid siege to it, capturing it after Mirat, leader of the Moors, had taken refuge there. There was the legend of Mirat the Saracen chief who held the castle against the assaults of Charlemagne. The coat of arms of Lourdes still bears witness to this legend of how Mirat sent Charlemagne a trout from a mountain stream as a sign that he could hold the castle indefinitely against any siege. Here the story goes:

The Eagle and the Trout
In 778, the year of the Battle of Roncevalles, the Emperor Charlemagne besieged the fortress of Lourdes, occupied by the Saracens. As starvation threatened, an eagle fortuitously dropped a trout at the feet of Mirat, the Saracen commander. A cunning fellow, Mirat had the fish sent to Charlemagne to give the impression that he still had plenty of food. Charlemagne was about to lift the siege when the Bishop of Le Puy, who was with him, had an inspired thought - Mirat should surrender, not to the emperor, but to the Queen of Heaven. The idea appealed to the Saracen who laid down his arms at the feet of the Black Virgin of Le Puy and was baptised as Lorus. His name was given to the town, which in time became Lourdes. And since then, its coat of arms bears an eagle holding a silver trout in its beak.

In 841, the castle was attacked by the Normans, who were however unable to conquer the castle in which the inhabitants of Lourdes had taken up their final stand. It was subsequently occupied by the Albigenses, by the French and by the English.

In about 1195, the castle became the property of the viscount of Tartas, after which, no longer used as a feudal residence, it was passed from hand to hand as alliances were successfully forged and broken off. In 1314, Charles the Handsome had the castle restructured and fortified to improve the region's defence. In 1322, he became the King of France (Charles IV).

In 1361, during the Hundred Years' War, Bigorre was ceded to the Prince of Wales, the famous black prince. He entrusted the command of the castle to Peter-Arnold and John of Bearn, who, with a gang of Gascon merceneries, set about looting the area. In 1369, an attempt by the French under Du Guesclin to recapture the castle met with failure, and it was not until the year 1377 that Gaston Phoebus was able to win it back for the King of France. Even so, the English were not completely out until the year 1407.

In 1404, the Count of Clermont seized it during the conquest of the "seven valleys" under English dominion. In 1406, he returned it to Charles IV, King of France. In 1425, the castle became the property of the house of Foix, when, during the Wars of Religion, it fell into the hands of the Huguenot leader, Montgomery, loyal lieutenant to Joan of Albret, although he occupied it for a little more than a fortnight. From 1569 to 1607, the castle figured prominently during the "religious wars" that raged throughout the country. During this period of time, the castle was taken and retaken by successive powers. As local Protestants from Bearn, led by Henry IV, warred with the Catholics of Bigorre in a conflict of mutual extermination, the poor town of Lourdes was captured and recaptured, sacked and pilllaged. In 1589, Henry of Bourbon (Henry IV) became King of France after which peace was gradually restored to the region.

Only in 1607, when the county of Bigorre became a part of France, did the castle become crown property. Henry IV of Navarre, King of France and heir to the counts of Foix, commissioned its restoration, entrusting the task to his governors. From then on, the walls of the old castle were to need little defending as few assaults, apart from an earthquake in 1660 which seriously damaged the chapel, were to assail them.

During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic dominion, the castle served as a state prison, where famous prisoners were kept, such as the Duke of Mazarin, the philosopher Maine de Biran and the general Bourbaki until it was finally converted into an army barrack. In 1893, the municipal administration of Lourdes bought it for 50000 gold francs. Following extensive restoration in 1921, it was restored. Today it houses the Pyrenean Museum and displays a selection of the popular crafts and traditions of the Pyrenees. It has become one of the most popular museums of traditional art in France. The museum holds annual exhibitions which revive the life and folklore of this marvellous land. Lifts can take visitors comfortably up to the main terrace. Alternatively, the visitors may climb the Saracens' Staircase and enter through the Charlemagne gate or the Assommoir gate. There are 156 steps.

From the castle terrace, there are stunning views of the sanctuaries, the Gave, Lourdes and the Pyrenees. The rectangular crenellated tower is 24 metres high. A curving staircase takes visitors 104 steps to the top. The "Our Lady of the Castle" chapel is also worth a visit. It contains some original and precious gilt-covered wooden statues from the original parish church of Lourdes which was destroyed by fire and subsequently demolished in 1905. These include: Madonna with child surrounded by angels, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, St. James of Compostela and St. Lucy.

There are 46 exhibition pavilions. On the eastern wall of the castle there is a huge clock which chimes the hour. In the central courtyard of the castle there is a display of miniature reproductions of historic abbeys, castles and monuments of Bigorre and Bearn.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

MURDER AT GOLGOTHA - REVISITING THE MOST FAMOUS CRIME SCENE IN HISTORY

Nearly two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was murdered in full public view, during daylight hours, in what was most likely the year A.D. 30. The crime scene was a hill called Golgotha, the "Place of the Skull," just outside the city of Jerusalem in the then Roman-occupied province of Judaea.

In the Garden of Gethsemane

In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and
his sweat fell on the ground like great drops of
blood. (Luke 22:44)

Is there any way that a man could indeed "sweat blood?" According to the veteran New York medical examiner Frederick Zugibe, who has taken a great deal of interest in this description, Jesus was experiencing a classic "fight or flight" reaction. After a rush of adrenalin which would have caused his heart rate to increase, his blood vessels would have first constricted, and then dilated. This would have sent blood sugar levels soaring. He would have panted to increase his oxygen intake. This would have been followed by extreme physical tiredness, then exhausted resignation. His heart rate would have slowed, accompanied by sweating. As the blood rushed into the capillaries close to the sweat glands these would have ruptured, generating great drops of sweat mixed with blood. Medically called haematodrosis, this is readily recognizable as what Jesus was experiencing. So we have no reason to doubt the Luke testimony that "his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood."

The First Interrogation
Anytime that Jesus made a pertinent point, such as protesting how openly he had taught in the Temple and the synagogues, the guards reportedly stepped in to administer a corrective beating.

At these (Jesus') words one of the guards standing
by gave Jesus a slap on the face, saying "Is that the
way that you answer the High Priest? (John 18:22)

The Matthew, Mark, and Luke versions all refer to the guards similarly behaving violently towards Jesus without either interrogator voicing the slightest call for restraint.

They spat in his face and hit him with their fists;
others said as they struck him, "Prophesy to us,
Christ! Who hit you then?" (Matthew 26:67-68)

According to the Matthew, Mark, and Luke versions, Caiaphas ultimately put to Jesus the key question of whether he was the Jewish people's expected messiah.

From this day onward you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power (i.e. God) and
coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64)

At this declaration Caiaphas reportedly tore his priestly robe as a ritual token that Jesus had effectively signed his own death warrant. He pronounced that as Jesus had uttered an obvious, blatant blasphemy, no further witnesses were necessary. Whoever was present on the interrogation side that night, they collectively decided that Jesus deserved to die.

The Scourging: Visions of the nineteenth-century nun Anne Catherine Emmerich, as recounted to her interpreter Clemens Brentano
And now came to meet Jesus the executioners' servants with their whips, rods, and cords. ... There were six of them.... There was something beastly, even devilish, in their appearance, and they were half intoxicated.... Two of the bloodhounds with sanguinary rage began to tear with their whips the sacred back from head to toe.... Our Lord quivered and writhed like a poor worm under the strokes of the criminals' rods.... A large of thick, red juice was brought to them, from which they guzzled until they became perfectly furious from intoxication. They had been at work about a quarter of an hour.... Jesus' body was .... enirely covered with swollen cuts.... The second pair of scourgers now fell upon Jesus with fresh fury. They made use of different rods, rough, as if set with thorns.... Under their furious blows.... his blood squirted around so that the arms of his tormentors were sprinkled with it.... The last two scourgers struck Jesus with whips consisting of small chains, or straps, fastened to an iron handle, the ends furnished with iron points, or hooks. They tore off whole pieces of skin and flesh from his ribs.... Only blood and wounds, only barbarously mangled flesh could be seen on the.... body.... The terrible scourging.... lasted fully three-quarters of an hour.

Sentenced to Death
With or without the bloody excesses of the Gibson movie, Jesus' scourging must have rendered him a very sorry spectacle indeed, wracked in pain, gasping for breath, and covered with great, purplish bruise marks, many no doubt oozing blood from breaks in the skin at each point of impact. Even so, the Roman soldiers had not finished with him. According to the John testimony, they

twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his
head and dressed him a purple robe. They kept
coming up to him and saying "Hail king of the Jews!"
and slapping him in the face. (John 19:2-3)

No doubt some bully boy soldier hit upon the idea of twisting some of the thorn branches into a mock crown, then performing the heavy-handed "coronation" upon this unlikely looking "king of the Jews." For good measure he even threw over the prisoner's bloody shoulders an old cloak, as a "royal robe," to complete his handiwork. In all history, Jesus is the sole individual ever recorded to have received such a mockery, and if only for this reason of singularity, it carries all the hallmarks of having been a real occurrence.

Was our victim subjected to further punishment prior to his crucifixion? Certainly. The mocking "King of the Jews" cloak was removed from Jesus, and his own clothes put back on him. These would inevitably have stuck to his flesh wherever this had already become caked with blood and sweat. He was then made to shoulder the large length of timber on which he would be crucified, and led by the soldiers out of the Praetorium on what would be the last walk of his life.

What was the crucifixion procedure as carried out by the Romans? The first stage was for the victim to be stripped of his clothing. Given all the blood and sweat with which Jesus' body would have been caked when his clothing was returned to him after the scourging, this was all part of the torture. We all know the pain when even a small bandage is pulled sharply away from our skin. Imagine how many times worse this would have been when the "bandaging" was full-length clothing.

The next stage of the crucifixion procedure was the nailing of the victim to the wood of the cross. To carry the weight of an adult body that cross would have demanded some strong nails - heavy and at least six inches long. It would have been via the wrists rather than the palms that Jesus' body would have been nailed to the cross. The driving in of the nail would have hit the median nerve, causing, in Dr. Fred Zugibe's words,

one of the worst pains known to man, which physicians
call causalgia. Soldiers who experienced shrapnel
wounds to the median nerve during World War I often
went into profound shock if the pain was not promptly
relieved ... It was unbearable, burning, and incessant,
like a lightning bolt traversing the arm.

What would have been the effect of ankle-nailing on our victim? Any nail driven through the ankles would almost surely have been as devastating on Jesus' nerves as the continuing torture that he was suffering already from his entire body weight hanging on the nerves and bones in his wrists. This was what crucifixion really involved, and which Jesus - who had done nothing but heal and teach people to lead good lives - had to go through.

(Excerpted from Ian Wilson's Murder at Golgotha - a direct reaction to Mel Gibson's much-talked-about movie The Passion of the Christ. A marvelously detailed account of the last moments of Jesus' earthly life.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

DREAMS AND DREAMING: RELIGIOUS IMAGERY

The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines a dream in the following way:
'A train of hallucinatory experiences with a certain degree of coherence, but often confused and bizarre, taking place in the condition of sleep and similar conditions.'

It has been suggested that dream interpretation is like learning a new language; this is very true except that the language is actually already known to us and it is simply a matter of re-learning it. The language of dreams does have common themes and commonly accepted meanings, but just as every language has its dialects, so also does this one. Once the theme of the dream is revealed, then the various aspects can be given definition and the symbols interpreted.

Dream interpretation has a long and chequered history. Probably some of the best known dreams are those recorded in the Bible, such as the feast and famine one which was interpreted by Joseph (incidentally, Joseph must have had a great deal of insight available to him through dreams, since he was a prolific dreamer himself). Ancient peoples had great faith in prophetic or clairvoyant dreams which they called visions. They believed that these were sent by the gods as warnings and guidance. In the light of the modern day belief that many dreams come from the Higher Self, or more spiritual side of ourselves, we have come almost full circle.

Dreams have a way of introducing - or rather reintroducing - us to truths which we have long known to be. If spirituality is taken to be an inner truth, and religion as that which links us back to source, then it must be the case that religious imagery partly assists in that function of recognition. Using images that cannot be interpreted successfully in any other way reinforces the idea of spirituality being something separate in us. Because the images are so specific that they may be startling.

When the individual, through deliberate or spontaneous neglect, denies himself access to the store of religious imagery in waking life, dreams will often react to this lack and try to compensate by jolting the dreamer back into an awareness of his inner spirit. In today's society it is very easy to fasten on the hypocritical aspects of religion and to accept that hypocrisy. It is also easy to make the assumption that the outward forms of religion often deny the existence of a true inner reality. This rejection can be valid, since it is not until the individual accepts responsibility for his own existence that true spirituality emerges. If spirituality - the inner truth that we all hold - is neglected, it will not go away: it will simply reappear in its negative and terrifying form. In waking life the closest image we have to that is the Devil, or the more vengeful Indian gods. Our own personalised demons can be more frightening than those.

If we are prepared to accept that each truth will have its own personal slant, and that we must get back to the basic truth, all dreams can be interpreted from a spiritual point of view. This is especially true of religious imagery.

Christ appearing in dreams epitomises the recognition of the ability to reconcile the physical and the spiritual, God and man. He personifies Perfect Man, a state to which we all aspire. Appearing on the cross he signifies redemption through suffering. We do not need to be crucified physically to suffer.The ideal Christ is that part of ourselves which is prepared to take on our portion of the sufferings in the world by working within the world. The anarchic Christ is the part of us whose love and lust for life permit us to break through all known barriers. The Cosmic Christ is the part that is prepared to take on Cosmic Responsibility - thst is, to be connected with the Universal Truth. While these aspects have been spoken of in Christian terms, obviously they are also present in all religious figures.
(Excerpted from "The Complete Book of Dreams & Dreaming" by Pamela J. Ball - a very interesting book about dreams.)