ALIVE: Chapter 24 Circle Back to Meaning -Rainbow's End

And so the story of the most alive man of his time, Noah, comes to end. The rainbow that God places in the sky is to remind Himself and humankind that no matter how filled with evil the world becomes, He will not ever again destroy life... by water.

Because the earth endured only one death and rebirth (i.e. baptism) by flood, so too a person must only be baptized once. Jesus Christ mandated one baptism to place each of us, one at a time, in Noah's ark of salvation. He said, "Unless a person be born of water and the spirit (s)he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven." The spirit of mercy that the olive branch proclaimed after the ordeal, is poured over humankind through the ages.

When using the word 'salvation', let's keep in mind the image of Noah's ark tossed around a storm-swept sea surrounded by the drowned and drowning, to be clear of what we mean.

Baptism recreates the primal condition of water and darkness that preceded creation. The earth's baptism by flood, and the person's baptism by water equally lead to rebirths, necessary rebirths. A person must be born again, because the earth was born again. The second birth is the validated birth. In the Gospel of John, it is written, "but to as many as receive Christ He gives the right to become children of God who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but [of the will] of God." God willed the rebirth of His creation, and He wills the rebirth of every human into a being who will never die.

During the devastating flood, bodiless God saw the carnage and felt remorse. Was that the moment He decided to take on flesh, so He could experience for Himself the pain and suffering He had inflicted on His human creation? Was it during the deadly devastating flood that God decided that rather than destroy life, He must destroy death?

God had suffered the knowledge of evil and wickedness long enough, the reason for His decision to obliterate it on the earth, but seeing death on such a grand scale He understood as never before what a tragedy is death, and how essential it was to destroy it once and for all.

Having reversed Creation by rejoining the waters above the firmament with the waters below the firmament, His sorrowful desire was to rejoin Himself with fallen humanity. He wanted to be made in human image and likeness. Full circle. Only then, thought God, could He go to the receptacle of death, Hades, and annihilate it.

The roadmap to Golgotha was drawn during the flood. There would after that be the third and final Creation, which will last forever. As we leave Noah, let's not ever drift too far from what this experience taught us. To do so would be to be a helium balloon released from the hand of God and going nowhere.

ALIVE: Chapter 23 Circle Back to Meaning - Mercy

Κύριε ελέησον. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.

It seems ironic to associate Noah's ark experience with mercy. After all, there was no mercy whatsoever for the multitude of people and wildlife that were destroyed in the flood. And yet Noah's story is where the powerful symbol of mercy originated.

The Greek word for mercy, ελέησον, is literally from the root word, ειλλια - olive, referring to the olive leaf. The symbol of the dove returning with an olive leaf in its beak meant to Noah's family that the end of their travail was near. Words can never adequately express the relief and gratitude the family felt when after living through the annihilation of everyone and everything they knew, followed by an extraordinarily difficult year at sea, this olive leaf was delivered to show them that their new life was finally about to begin. Oh joy! Thank you God for your kindness, your benevolence, for your forgiveness and the tremendous relief you bring us.

The dove, albeit this specific dove, had come to symbolize the Holy Spirit of God in art as a solution to the problem of how to depict an invisible Spirit-Being. For Noah's family the olive branch was delivered by God Himself via the dove, therefore the Dove is God. For God, the delivery was an opportunity to show this bedraggled family His kindness. From then on to this day, we humans all seek and are grateful for such generosity of heart from God. Mercy for some of us is relief from suffering, for others it means gladness for a new life. For Noah's family it was both.

I doubt that as we ask God for mercy, we are as desperate for it, or as grateful for it as Noah's family was that day. Yet, how beneficial to our souls would it be that when we say, 'Lord, have mercy.' if only for a split second, we could hearken back to think of the olive branch and realize in its fullness for what we are asking.

Because most of us ask for mercy, instead of an olive branch, (Lord give me an olive branch) let's realize that the word, mercy, evolved from the French word for thanks, merci. Thank you God for your benevolence, kindness, and forgiveness. We have already been given that for which we ask, and so by asking for mercy, we are thanking God already.

In William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, he replies, "On what compulsion, must I?"

She responds:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Which echoes the circular virtue of mercy as expressed by Jesus in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7

By asking for mercy, you are given mercy. By giving mercy, you receive mercy.

The concept of mercy, either receiving or giving should never be divorced from our collective ancestral memory of the day the dove announced the end of days of bitterness and struggle and the advent of a new, holy life, and of our ancestor's gratitude to God for this second chance.

Yet, not gratitude but the olive best describes the significance of the dove with olive branch. Both East and West use the original Greek, Κύριε ελέησον. Kyrie Eleison. Lord give me olive branch. Thanks! May I suggest that in prayer, we use the Greek Κύριε ελέησον (Kyrie Eleison), more often than the English, Lord have mercy. The Greek has more meaning, and it will help us to hearken back to the powerful origin of the request.

Olive oil is sacred because it was the medium through which the Spirit of God delivered the good news of relief and the beginning of the new world to Noah's family. Olive oil simultaneously symbolizes the Spirit of God and the mercy of God. The dove and its olive branch merge as one symbol of God's kindness to Noah's family and by extension to all of us who are conscious of being in this Ark of Salvation (the Church) with all of its trials and tribulations and wanting finally to land in the new world that God is preparing for us.

The olive branch is the first of many significant references to the sacred olive and its oil. In Exodus 27:20 it is written: "You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly. In the tent of meeting outside the curtain that is before the covenant, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a perpetual ordinance to be observed throughout their generations by the Israelites." The light that the olive oil gives off is by extension from the dove with its olive branch, the light of the Spirit of God.

To confirm this interpretation through Biblical text, it was olive oil that Samuel used to anoint King Saul and King David that they may be saturated by the Spirit of God through which they would lead God's people Israel.

Another significant reference is found in Zechariah 4 whose vision describes two olive trees continuously pouring oil into seven lamps which are described as, "...the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."

So it is throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, references to olive oil include the rich meaning of the Spirit of God and the kindness and relief, and the new world He offers us, the message God delivered by the dove to Noah and his family.

The concept of mercy and the Spirit of the Lord emanate from the Dove with the olive branch in its beak and infiltrate our world from ages to the coming age. Lord have olive branch, Lord merci for the olive branch.

Κύριε ελέησον. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.

Be aware, stay ALIVE.

Alive: Chapter 22 - Circle Back to Meaning - Food Power

Noah and his family had to store enough food in the ark to keep them alive for an undetermined period of time after the 40 days of rain. Who knew how long it would be before they could grow food even after landing? They also needed enough food for the animals.

Before the flood, at Creation, God said to Adam and Eve, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, every tree with seed in its fruit, you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." Man and animal alike were vegan. I imagine that they stored plenty of nuts, and dried fruit on the ark. It wasn't until they landed with very little food left and no time to wait for the planting cycle did God suggest that they eat the animals. Such a notion terrified them and repulsed them, but they had no choice.

Lazaria, the most sensitive and spiritual of the group, was only able to eat meat when she thought that the animal would continue to live through her. Otherwise, she couldn't do it. She would die before killing an animal for food. Our diet informs the way we perceive life, how we relate to nature, and it informs our thoughts and behavior.

Food is medicine. What we take into our mouths finds its way to every cell, even into our minds and our hearts, the center of our psyches which are not physical. The properties of drugs, legal or recreational, clearly show the effect of what goes into our mouths in an exaggerated way. Even though controlling what comes out of our mouth is more important to our spiritual wellbeing than what goes in, nevertheless controlling what goes in makes a difference in who we are. Everything that goes into our mouths, and how we decide what to put in, affect us subtly but distinctly. Hunger is not always bad. Hunger when fasting strengthens us when it is a result of our will to master ourselves, rather than continuously giving in to every little desire. This exercise of the will, which is willing and able to endure hunger pangs, becomes strong enough to fight evil and win. It is strong enough to resist the devil, and to obey God. No matter what.

It is a good spiritual exercise to replicate the eating regimen of life in the ark of salvation, during the forty day period of Great Lent. Let Lent call you into the ark of salvation.

During the 40 days of Great Lent the Church invites us in more often, into its buildings and into its sacred world, even when we are home. A key aspect of being in the ark is eating as they did. No meat, not even dairy products, because there was no mention of that. Surely, in the ark, the chickens and cows stopped producing. Eat sparingly and only what Noah and his family could eat. See what that does for your soul.
To eat as if you and I were in the ark is to evolve spiritually as did Noah and his family.

To use a different standard when deciding what goes into our mouths, a standard given to us by the Church, is to humble ourselves. We adults rarely have such an opportunity to voluntarily place ourselves under the care and guidance of a spiritual parent. Grab the opportunity Great Lent offers, by fasting as the Church prescribes. Use fasting as a tool to open your heart and mind so that you may perceive more clearly the spirit world around you.

Change of diet through fasting and abstinence helps to change the mind and heart. It helps us to be aware that we are in the period of Great Lent; to be aware of being in a separate place in time. When it comes down to it, we have to wonder how any food, be it steak or ice cream could possibly surpass the value of such spiritual awareness.

Besides, resisting forbidden fruit is a good way to show God that unlike Adam and Eve, we could resist eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that we are worthy of a do-over.

ALIVE: Chapter 21 - Circle Back to Meaning - Sudden Death

Another important lesson that The Flood Story taught us was the same lesson that Jesus and ISIS have also taught us. Be ready for sudden death. The warnings have been sent out loud and clear, and repeatedly. Things change, and sometimes they change fast.

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! There will not be enough for you and us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Matthew 25:1-14

We don't know how many people lived on earth when the Flood came and devastated them all. We must assume that although evil and wickedness was rampant, as it is in this day, we would not have considered everything to be purely evil. Surely there was a measure of love for children or spouses. Surely there existed random acts of kindness for the weak, or the neighbor. God made humans in His image and likeness, and God is love. So even the most vulgar human contains within him or herself the seed of love. Surely not everyone in that world would have been condemned to death by me or you if we had been God in the days of the Flood. The wives all had relatives that they left behind. They must have grieved terribly over those deaths.

We must accept that God despises evil so much that, at the time of the Flood, He was willing to destroy everything and every one, down to the last puppy in order to be rid of evil, and to start anew.

When terrorists do their dirty deeds for whatever reasons, they do not carefully select who they determine deserves to be murdered. Their murderous instincts are dispersed suddenly, indiscriminately, and without trial. While the soul of the suicide bomber plummets into a place of eternal anguish, his victim may be experiencing a calm, peaceful, and blissful state unknown before that tragic moment. This scene is as invisible as cyberspace, but as real.

Accidental deaths come suddenly too. Anyone who has lost a loved one by accidental death knows how fast the world can spin.

Jesus warned us to 'Be Ready.' The terrorists have also warned us to 'Be Ready' by the randomness of their dastardly deeds. Secret agents and investigators, the military, and all those charged to protect us have and will continue to reduce our risk of sudden death, but no one can guarantee it will not happen. We can reduce the number of accidental deaths with safety measures, but we cannot prevent all such deaths.

A person who dies suddenly may not suffer at all, certainly not as much as those beloved (s)he left behind. The soul of a person which has been torn from its body may go to experience a foretaste of bliss, or of punishment depending on their first judgement. Ancient Christian theology teaches that on the way to its resting place, the soul will be accused by demons at a trial, and that angels and saints, and family and friends will testify on the soul's behalf before the determination is made as to where the person will go.

When Jesus returns at the end of this age, and He ushers in the new age of immortality from 'whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away' when He will judge the living and the dead (for the second and final time), believe it or not, the victorious will discover a life that is more pure and stable, free from any threat, than we can ever imagine.

You see; we live in a dangerous, constantly changing world. The only true security we have is what we provide for ourselves. Call it oil for our lamps, or call it a real relationship with our life giver whose voice we recognize and who knows us down to the count of every hair on our heads, but for children of God, if evil robs us of our bodies with its breath and beat, we will simply be given a new indestructible body someday that will last forever and ever. Evil will not win, except for those who surrender to it, either intentionally or by neglect.

One lesson of the Flood is found in the clear and tragic picture that it paints of those few who were in the Ark, contrasted by those many who were not. Although Noah was chosen among men to build the ark and to live through the catastrophe of the Flood, his family, especially the wives of his sons were simply lucky. Yet, the process changed them all.

Sudden death is not necessarily avoidable, so be prepared. And if you are lucky enough to live a long and healthy life, use it to prepare for the age to come.

Does the concept of sudden death make you feel uncomfortable? I know.

It's about separation. We don't want to leave our friends or family, our homes and towns, our countries and everything familiar. The great unknown is frightening. And yet, death, sudden or not, is inevitable. All the more reason to make God, Jesus, the angels and saints, an integral part of our social network because they will be the ones who will greet us on the day we pass from this earth. Follow Christ.

The Church is the Ark of our world, with its doors wide open to receive and protect us, rather than shut tight to keep us out, that is until the day the Bridegroom comes (again), and the wedding feast begins, when the doors of the Ark-Church too will be shut tight, and we can no longer enter. Sudden death. Forever.

ALIVE: Chapter 20 - Circle Back to Meaning - 40 days


As I circle back to the meaning of the Flood, the fact that God told Noah that it would rain for exactly 40 days, as it did, I notice that this was the very first, and the first of three, phenomenal 40 day periods in history.

It took 40 days of rain to wipe out life in the Flood. Moses visited with God on the mountaintop for 40 days, during which time he transcribed Genesis and received the Ten Commandments. In the third phenomenal 40 day period, Jesus fled to the desert after being baptized by John to prepare for His ministry and kickstart His mission to restore the God:man relationship and consequently immortality to humankind.

It takes 365 days for the earth to completely revolve around the sun, but it took only forty days, five weeks plus five days of time on three separate occasions for God to construct a solid stairway to heaven with three landings of time for humanity to catch up.

Noah. On the first 40-day stairway God gradually and systematically erased that which He created.

Moses. On the second set of risers, God introduced Himself to a man. The meeting was long and specific. He wanted to tell mankind, through this man Moses, what He was like, so mankind could consciously and willingly maintain His image and likeness.

With the first forty days God erased, with the second He drew a clear outline of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. God chose Israel's big family to be the Control Group. Having decided not to erase by flood again, evil and wickedness in humankind would be fought with the will of man subjecting itself, one person at a time, to the will of God in a deliberate, conscious, and knowing way.

Jesus. God Himself came to earth, fully God and also fully human, to apply to the whole from the Control Group (the Jews) the principles of combatting evil and wickedness with the individual's own yielded will and desire.

As with Moses, God-Jesus convened for forty days of testing by Satan who repeatedly tempted Jesus to misalign His human will to the divine will of God the Father. The stakes were the highest. Satan failed.

God, as Jesus, was to not just tell humankind what He was like, and thus how to be like Him, but He was to be the model for the perfect man that God intended mankind to be.

For three 40-day periods, God painstakingly helped humankind to be what He intended in the beginning. God wanted sons and daughters, but exactly because mankind is like him, intelligent, creative, and emotional, and willful, it would take a slow gradual, but more thorough, process to receive true children of God. No hurry. He has time.

Lent. To extract the most from the forty day Lenten period, a person should consciously and deliberately climb these stairs.

1. Erase evil from your world by avoiding or ignoring it. See Lent as a fresh start. The Noah steps.
2. Learn. Read whatever you can that teaches you the Will of God. The Moses steps.
3. Practice overcoming the temptation to misalign your will with God's Will. The Jesus Christ steps.

What doesn't matter: The color of our skin, our earthly achievements, our wealth or poverty, or our health, our education or our talents, our social network, none of these worldly aspects of a person matter one whit to God.

What matters. Our willingness to obey God's commands, and to conform to the image of Christ, our Model.

Forty days is only a brief period of time, five weeks and five days, but as history has shown, it can be a most unique and meaningful period.

ALIVE: Chapter 19. Circle Back to Meaning - Baptism

I am going to miss Noah and Sha-me, and the rest. These characters had been so alive to me that now that their scenes are over, I wonder where they went and what they are doing, like old friends, like people in heaven.

The account of the Flood is found in only a few short chapters of Genesis, yet bulges with information about life, which in essence is our reflection of, and our relationship with, our Life Giver. These few chapters reveal to us several key insights into the Personality of our thoughtful, intelligent, and emotional God. We also experienced many firsts during the Flood event that could help us to understand the significance of such things as baptism, forty day periods, mercy, and salvation.

As I have started to show the reader, the Flood story is much more than a cute tale about a boatload of animals and a chosen family. The logistics, the ecology, and primitive engineering of this event were also fascinating to think about. I surmised that the Flood explains the extinction of dinosaurs, and Neanderthals; since earlier passages in the Bible mention sea monsters, and sons of God marrying daughters of men. After the Flood there was no such mention of monsters or distinction in kinds of human beings.

First and foremost the Flood is about baptism. It is about the one and only watershed moment in the history of the earth and humankind when God attempted to destroy evil and wickedness with water. It is about wholesale death by water. Water, the primary element in the creation story, was used in full force to kill man and beast and to wipe out vegetation as well. After that, baptism is about re-creation, renewal, rebirth.

To be baptized is to die as one thing and be born again as something else, something better.

This explains why the Bible and the Church call for one and only one baptism. We may receive the Eucharist as often as we want for the remission of sins, but there is to be only one baptism.

The created world died and was reborn once; it was baptized; becoming something else, something better.

In John 3:3-6 Jesus said, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God...”

Even Christ allowed Himself to be baptized by John to mark the end of His life as an obscure son of a carpenter, and to be reborn as the Son of Man, and the Son of God.

As the people of the Eastern Church enter Lent, let's begin by contemplating Baptism. Let's imagine this period of Lent as entering the ark, like Noah and his family, to leave the world of the violent and the dead, and our old lives and gradually, over the next 40 days, to be renewed.

Quickly enter the Ark, closed the door tight and stay inside!