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I’ve been meaning to blog about this old Commonweal essay about Orthodox spirituality, by the late Orthodox priest Father John Garvey. It occurred to me that it might be a good follow-up to yesterday’s Christianity & psychedelics piece, because it touches on concerns I have about psychedelic experience. Father John writes:
The monasticism of the desert fathers is a major influence in Orthodoxy, and the Apophthegmata Patrum—the sayings of the fathers (and mothers) of the desert—range from remarkably practical advice to a startling sense of participation in the divine. Take these two selections, from Benedicta Ward’s translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications):
Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”
Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Note the words, “the old man.” The idea is preserved in the Greek word for “an elder”—geron—still used of wise monks and spiritual directors, the idea being that it takes time and patience to get there.
It seems to me that “getting there” by virtue of ingesting a drug is cheating — not in a moral sense, but in a spiritual sense that could leave one spiritually vulnerable. This is just an intuition. As I said in yesterday’s post, the man who has $10 million because he labored for 30 years, and the man who has it in an instant because he won the lottery, both have $10 million, but only the man who has labored for it for many years understands the meaning of that richness, and is prepared to live with it. My suspicion is that same principle is at work with psychedelics.
At the heart of the spiritual journey is the belief that we are all called to theosis, or deification. St. Athanasius wrote, “The Word became man so that man might become God.” The boldness of this sounds blasphemous to some, but it squares with Jesus’ words, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Christian mysticism is grounded in what is called apophatic theology, the belief that God’s nature is so radically unknowable that ordinary language and concepts fail utterly to get at it—so it may even be said that God does not exist, as we ordinarily use the word “exist” to describe the being of an object among other objects. But God has made himself known, and by his gift we may share his being, as he shared ours. We are capable of receiving this gift because we have seen Christ’s willingness to empty himself and assume our nature. As he became one of us, we can share the divine nature to the extent that with God’s help we can empty ourselves.
The idea that one could experience theosis in this life was at the heart of what became known as the hesychast controversy, from the Greek hesychia, or “stillness.” The anonymous author of The Way of a Pilgrim speaks of The Philokalia, a multivolume collection of writings on prayer, compiled in the eighteenth century. (The title means “love of the good.”) The many contributors include St. John Cassian (c. 346–c. 435), St. Maximos the Confessor (c. 580–662), and St. Gregory Palamas (c. 1296–1359), whose response to a challenge to hesychasm in the fourteenth century synthesized Orthodox ideas about grace and our participation in the divine life.
Gregory Palamas defended the belief that one could genuinely experience the presence of God. Grace is not a created gift but the divine energies of God. Barlaam the Calabrian (1290–1348) had taken the idea of apophaticism to an extreme, and argued against those monks who believed that it was possible to experience “the uncreated light of Tabor,” the light seen by Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration. Gregory defended the monks, arguing that although God was in his nature unknowable, his energies were divine and could be shared with those who were capable of receiving them. Although it is possible to delude oneself, it is also possible to share in divinity, even in this life, just as Jesus shared our humanity.
It has to be said, however, that the point of prayer is not any particular experience, but rather turning one’s life over into God’s hands.
Hesychios says that “all this happens naturally” and can be learned from experience. The naturalness and experiential aspects of the life of prayer assume an intermingling of the divine and the human that is revealed in the Incarnation. All of us are called to realize this, and to the extent that we are made capable of doing so, it involves our cooperation with the one who emptied himself to bring us into the fullness of his own being. A prayer sung during the liturgy of the Feast of the Transfiguration says, “You were transformed on the Mount, O Christ God, / Revealing your glory to your disciples as far as they could bear it.”
The idea that this glory draws us toward God is part of the vision of eternity of St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 395): “Every desire for the Beautiful which draws us on in this ascent is intensified by the soul’s very progress toward it. And this is the real meaning of seeing God: never to have this desire satisfied.” It is echoed in Pascal’s “The Mystery of Jesus,” a part of his Pensées: there Jesus says, “If you are seeking me, you have found me.”
It seems to me — notice that I’m writing “seems” when I talk about all this — that the Orthodox tradition wouldn’t necessarily deny the psychedelic experience outright, but it would say that it is dangerous to tread in that strange land, where the veil to some extent has been lifted, without great spiritual preparation. If God wants to show you those things, then you should get there via the long way. If not, not. What the psychonauts seek is in some sense real, but absent the kind of preparation that comes from many years of prayer, worship, and askesis, one could be badly misled by this knowledge. We may say that it is forbidden to access it through chemical means not because it is necessarily entirely untrue, but because we cannot make proper sense of it, and therefore could open ourselves to the demonic.
That’s a theory. Thoughts welcome.
By the way, some of you got the idea that I’m promoting Christians using psychedelics. Not at all! I’m trying to figure out how to think of those compounds in a Christian way, even if we reject their use.
Or more specifically, the 35-year-old native of Tajikistan, the most impoverished of Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics, says his presence here, 200 kilometers northwest of Moscow, is good for his adopted homeland.
“‘Better you than the Chinese,’ that’s what my ex-boss told me,” the small-framed Soliev says between double shifts as a stoker at the village school, earning him around $250 a month, nearly twice the average Tajik wage.
The “you” is a reference to Soliev, who speaks fluent Russian and also routinely quotes ancient Persian thinker Omar Khayyam’s poems in Farsi, a linguistic sibling of his mother tongue, and 46 other families whose resettlement from Tajikistan over the past decade almost doubled Rozhdestveno’s aging population of about 200.
Half of the students in Soliev’s school are their raven-haired children, and their wives, in long skirts and head scarves, shop for groceries at a store next to the Orthodox church.
The arrival to urban centers and the countryside of Soliev and millions of other mostly Muslim labor migrants from Central Asia is at the center of what could emerge as Russia’s most radical ethnic makeover in centuries.
And some residents of Rozhdestveno and nearby villages speak caustically of the immigrants and forebodingly of an uncertain future.
“In 10 years, the village will either disappear or become foreign,” says retiree Viktor Yerofoeyevich, declining to give his last name. He is a resident of the neighboring village of Bortnikovo, where a paltry 12 houses have full-time residents.
Polls point to fears among many of Russia’s 142 million people of an uncontrolled influx of migrants eager to snatch up jobs and wildly tilt the country’s demographics in favor of the newcomers.
Vyacheslav Postavnin, a former deputy director of Russia’s Federal Migration Service who now heads the 21st Century Migration Fund, a Moscow-based think tank, compares it to the storied Mongol invasion of the 13th century that was followed by Islamization and the settling of former nomads in what is now southern Russia.
“The last bastion is the quick construction of Orthodox churches,” Postavnin says of ethnic Russians’ mistrust of the cultural and religious implications of immigration, “because the number of adherents of Islam is growing.”
Four-fifths of Russians say the Kremlin “must limit” the flow of migrants, and two-fifths believe migrants should live in “specially assigned areas,” according to a survey last year by state-run pollster VTsIOM.
And more than one in four Russians feels “irritation, dislike, or fear” specifically toward Central Asians, according to a more recent survey by independent pollster Levada.
Bucking A Trend
In its recent Revision Of World Urbanization Prospects report, the United Nations predicted that the current decline in Russia’s rural population would accelerate in the coming decades, from nearly 37 million now to just 22 million Russians residing in the countryside by the year 2050.
Stretched along the road between the ancient city of Tver and the Volga River, Rozhdestveno and a cluster of smaller villages around it exemplify the agony of Russia’s countryside.
Here, as in many rural areas mired in joblessness since the post-Soviet collapse of collective farms, decimated by low birthrates and migration to big cities, and barely held together by potholed roads, there is a perception that this kind of national heartland is no longer a pillar of Russian identity, prosperity, and tsarist-era expansion from the Baltic to the Pacific.
The trends have been accompanied by cutbacks in the number of village hospitals, schools, and administrative resources that further encourage locals to flee dwindling villages. Almost 36,000 Russian villages, or one in four, are home to 10 or fewer residents, and 20,000 more have been abandoned altogether, according to the latest Russian census, conducted in 2010.
Rozhdestveno is lucky to be larger than the nearby villages, but fallow fields covered with birch and pine saplings and poisonous giant hogweed surround it in every direction. The saplings herald the return of dense forests from which these villages were carved out centuries ago.
While the elderly in the area are forced to make do on meager pensions, many of the younger residents who haven’t left for the city subsist on potatoes from backyard gardens and pick mushrooms and berries to supplement their incomes. They sell whatever they can pick to middlemen from Tver or to affluent neighbors — frequently dacha owners from big cities who only show up in summer.
“I can sell mushrooms, sell cranberries. How else can I earn money?” says Vladimir, a jobless man from the village of Nesterovo, lisping through missing teeth. Clad in a greasy jacket and standing on a dirt road, he sums up his quarter century since the Soviet collapse.
“All of our household economy was destroyed, all the animal farms,” he says. “Every old lady used to have sheep, cows. Now, no one has any. Even chickens are gone.”
‘Not Afraid To Work’
Almost all of Rozhdestveno’s Tajik families hail from Gorno-Badakhshan, an especially poor, mountainous region that accounts for nearly half of Tajikistan’s territory. Tajiks were early and eager labor migrants to post-Soviet Russia, and hundreds of thousands now have citizenship there, officials say.
While it didn’t distinguish between Russian nationals and foreigners, the last nationwide census, in 2010, showed fourfold increases in the number of ethnic Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the Russian countryside, although there was a steep decline in the number of ethnic Uzbeks.
But the census generally excludes temporary labor migrants, according to Yevgeniya Chernina of the Center of Labor Studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economy, of which there are millions, on and off the books.
The Tajik men around Rozhdestveno — from teenagers to forty-something men — are said to be generally eager to accept any employment opportunity that presents itself. They compete with locals in picking mushrooms and berries, and work at a nearby sawmill, on farms and construction sites in Tver, and drive cabs and buses.
“They’re not afraid to work,” Mayor Dmitry Kirdanov says. “It’s a helpful difference from the native population.”
Immigrants renovated several three-story apartment buildings that stood empty after the demise of the village’s collective farm, bought up dilapidating wooden houses, and enrolled three dozen children in school — doubling the number of students and providing teachers with more work.
There have been inevitable tensions, but locals say they have generally been tackled before they were allowed to fester.
The imposing, taciturn leader of Rozhdestveno’s Tajik community routinely finds himself thrust into the center of such quarrels.
Pairavsho, as he is known, manages a storage facility in Tver and arbitrates disputes between Tajiks and locals, a cultural holdover from the common Central Asian practice of tapping the wisdom of elders.
“If there’s a misunderstanding, they come to me, and we sort things out right away,” the father of two says on a Sunday evening, as dozens of Tajiks play soccer on the field in front of him.
Kirdanov cites an example, saying the immigrants’ children “brought a specifically [Central] Asian attitude to women” that some locals found objectionable. In that case, he says, a “conference” was convened to prevail upon the immigrants and soon the boys “stopped treating girls rudely.”
‘Better Off in yhe Village’
Some of the immigrants’ personal trajectories fit patterns described by Shukhrat Ganiev, a labor migration expert with the Humanitarian Rights Center, a think tank in the central Uzbek city of Bukhara. He has made two extensive trips across Russia since 2000 to document the emergence of what he calls “Uzbek villages” there.
Village officials or farmers in northern regions and Siberia frequently allow labor migrants to squat in abandoned houses and help them get work and residency permits, he says, sometimes inducing nearly whole villages to follow.
“Usually, this is a perennial practice with further integration into the local society,” Ganiev says in a reference to migrants who get Russian passports and send their children to Russian-language schools.
Other migrants are hired as seasonal farmhands, he says, mostly in southern Russian regions with booming, industrialized agriculture, and return home in winter.
Even more often, Ganiev says, migrants working in big cities move their families to the countryside because of lower rent and food costs and a safer, healthier environment.
“They’re better off in the village,” says Rovshan Khushvaktov, a 28-year-old cabbie who arrived four years ago from the central Uzbek city of Bukhara. “It’s so hard to keep an eye on children in Moscow.”
His wife and three children live in a small rented house in the village of Khoroshevo, some 180 kilometers southwest of Moscow. He sleeps in his white Hyundai between 18-hour shifts and tries to visit them each week.
Once they get Russian citizenship, many migrants become an important asset for local politicians.
In Rozhdestveno, where the overwhelming majority of Tajiks boast red Russian passports, Pairavsho declines to discuss his community’s political preferences, saying only that they “take part in every election.”
But the indications are that they vote overwhelmingly for the ruling United Russia party.
“Through their leaders, we always get a high turnout,” Kirdanov says in a reference to influential elders like Pairavsho.
“All sorts of outside political carpetbaggers tried to use them,” he adds, “but now they trust the [Kremlin’s] power, and openly say they won’t sell their political favors anymore.”
The post How Muslim Migrants Are Reshaping Russia’s Dying Countryside, One Village at a Time appeared first on American Renaissance.
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A County Attorney in Kentucky is under fire for forcing state employees to donate to his campaign, while also being hit for supporting the release of names of sexual abuse victims.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell is facing down the barrel of an upcoming Democratic primary for his position, which will take place on May 22nd. He is currently being attacked on several sides of his poor behavior, with employees claiming in a suit about his “wrath” and coercion and an ad campaign being run to highlight his remarks on abused Boy Scouts.
So there are two things happening now: A wrongful termination suit, and a campaign highlight his take on sex abuse victims.
According to his government profile, O’Connell has been involved as the County Attorney in Jefferson since 2008. Before that, he worked as a judge and in private practice.
O’Connell was also a member of the Kentucky Bar Association’s ethics committee. In his profile, it states:
“Mike has pushed for practices that hold everyone in the system to a high level of accountability and a level playing field within the system.”
Ah, that’s nice. What a sin he never applied any of his highfalutin ideals elsewhere.
If you’re an NHL fan, Mike is not to be confused with Mike O’Connell, former GM of the Bruins.
Former Prosecutor Fires Wrongful Termination Suit
Glenda Bradshaw once worked in the County Attorney Office, and the formerly high-ranking prosecutor filed a suit claiming that she was fired improperly and that O’Connell had his employees so terrified of being let go that they would donate to his upcoming election campaign fund in order to keep their jobs.
According to Bradshaw, O’Connell would compare his employee lists to donor lists before making decisions on promotions.
When O’Connell’s campaign was asked about the lawsuit, the reply was a standard form letter:
“I am thankful for the campaign support I have received from all walks of our community. I am humbled that some of my staff have supported my re-election because they know firsthand the good work we perform daily.”
Another former attorney in the office, a woman named Kara Lewis said that she was fired for “no reason”… except that she refused to donate to the campaign.
Her firing occurred during a working day, where she was taken from a courtroom and told she would no longer be involved in caseroom. Lewis said:
“[My firing] affected my career, it affects my family. It had a horrible effect on my life… a horrible impact on us financially.”
The firing took place one month after O’Connell was re-elected in 2010 after five years in the office.
Mike O’Connell Wants To Release Names of Abused Boy Scouts
In the last few weeks, O’Connell has been on blast for arguing that the names of alleged abuse victims ought to be published. The incident is still before the courts, and O’Connell has been arguing on behalf of the Louisville police youth program that was allegedly abusing Boy Scouts involved in a program offered by the police.
While speaking to media, O’Connell said last year that at least one of the former Scouts should not be allowed to remain anonymous while filing the suit against two former officers who are being hit with both civil and criminal charges. It will level the “playing fields” to publish the names.
Checking out the reviews on his official page, one posted last month came from a local who declared that she would never vote for him again. The trouble is connected to a recent spat where O’Connell suggested that he might support releasing the names of rape victims, including children:
I am shocked, dismayed and deeply troubled over your recent suggestion to list the names of rape victims that are actually underage teenagers. Why would you want to victimize them all over again? Isn’t this abusive? They trusted the police who ran this program and unfortunately, a few of these male police officers were perverted predators.
Right now, television ads are running to highlight O’Connell’s remarks. The advertisements are being paid for by Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson, who is running against O’Connell in the Democratic primary.
Sources: Fox News, Courier-Journal