Tame the tongue

The Bible says lots about the human tongue.  Four groups of meanings are predominant : (a) as an organ of speech; (b) by metonymy, for “language” used by the tongue; (c) by extension, to denote the whole person or personal traits; and (d) to indicate tongue-shaped objects.
First, in a biblical letter, Saint James cautions us about the use of our tongues for loose talk.  He writes: Just as a whole forest can be destroyed by a small fire, so the tongue is a fire that can stain the whole body.”  He continues, “All beasts can be tamed, but how difficult it is to tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, deadly poison.”  He commends wise people who use their tongues “to praise God and bless others.”
tame the tongueSecond, tongue refers to language.  Unlike India, which is multi-lingual, most nations are delineated along linguistic boundaries.  Their citizens are “of one tongue”.  Indeed, the word “tongue” derives from the Latin LINGUA, meaning “tongue”.  The Biblical “speaking in tongues” means “speaking many languages”.  Glossolalia is the “gift of tongues”  —— a gift of God’s Spirit ——- whereby prophets speak many languages, sometimes unintelligible to others.  By truthfully interpreting such tongues, one discerns what God plans as good for us.
Third, tongue can denote the whole person or personality types.  Of arrogant and boastful people, it is said, “Their tongue struts through the earth.”  The psalmist writes, “Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharp razor, you who practise deceit.  O deceitful tongue.”
Finally, the Bible refers to “tongues of fire”, “tongues of gold” and “tongues of the sea”, when speaking of tongue-shaped objects.  The spit of land protruding into the Dead Sea was simply called “The Tongue”.
The Bible says : “The tongue speaks of fullness of the heart.”  Though our words might be aimed at abusing others, they actually rebound on ourselves and reveal our own bad character.
—————-  Francis Gonsalves. 

Bells across the snow

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain !
There’s a minor in the carol
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath tonight.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow”.
O Christmas, merry Christmas,
 ‘Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song !
Christmas bellsIf we could but hear them singing,
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow,
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow”.
O Christmas, merry Christmas,
This never more can be,
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee.
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good will,
Wit holy songs of glory
Brings holy gladness still,
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow”.
———- Frances Ridley Havergal.   

Silent night

The true celebration of CHRISTMAS is an invitation to “inner silence”, where we learn to live with opposites.
A Jewish Rabbi, teaching the Talmud to a group of students, asked them what they saw on the page.  All said that they saw the “words ” on it.  None of them had noticed the “white spaces that separated the words”.  Were it not for these spaces, the words would become unintelligible.  What is more, he pointed out, these spaces formed the background and the context I which what was written could be understood.
Christmas paintingGod has been described as a sphere whose circumference is everywhere, but whose centre is nowhere.  We are enfolded by the Spirit and it is the context in which we live our daily lives.  Most of the time, however, our activities are so closely juxtaposed, that like words not separated by spaces in between them, they seem meaningless.  Our proximity to one another as we jostle for space in public transport systems only ends up as our being a juxtaposition of solitudes.
Social networking affords us the opportunity not only to be more connected to others, but more disconnected from the core of our being.  For those who still, somehow, manage to make the time, the spiritual becomes an ‘add-on’ that often fails to load since the basic operating system is out of sync and out of date.
The “spiritual” is embedded in our collective subconscious.  The Christmas story is about our being awakened to its presence, like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi, who are characterised by their state of wakefulness.
Individuals have always been conscious of the presence of the Divine.  The history of religions reveals that there has been a progressive deepening in the understanding of God’s presence.  It has evolved from God’s presence in nature, controlling its various elements and reflecting his glory in creation to a localised presence in temples of worship.  The celebration of Christmas draws our attention to the fact that God is not only with us but also within us.  We do not have to ‘go into his presence’.  The outward journey to places of worship and pilgrimages to holy place are meant to direct us to the journey inwards where we experience his real presence with us.  It becomes the source, meaning and purpose of everything we say, everything we do.  God is the context in which we live our lives.  The written word begins its existence only when it is placed on a page.  It owes its being to the space that surrounds it.
Creation is the revelation of God’s silence —— the space between the words ——- in which his presence is felt and experienced.  The poet Kabir laughed when he was told that the fish in the ocean were thirsty.  We often thirst for God’s presence, unaware that we are surrounded by it.
Contrary to what we might expect, the true celebration of Christmas is an invitation  to inner silence.  It is a silence in which we recognise our connectedness by being enfolded within it.  The journey into the world of silence is a journey that takes us back from the world of dissipation into wholeness.
By its very nature silence cannot be exploited.  The power of silence is its ability to mediate the irreconcilable.  In the realm of silence, irreconcilable differences can co-exist without tension, because silence is non-judgemental, and differences travel toward one another with no need to swallow or disintegrate or demolish each other.  Silence frees us from the expectation that we can understand and resolve the myriad irreconcilable elements of existence.  Journeying into the ‘womb of silence” in meditation, we discover the capacity for co-existence : we learn to live with opposites.
May the silence of that first Christmas night be the harbinger of peace on earth to all people of goodwill.
————– CHRISTOPHER MENDONCA (Speaking Tree)



In a mountainous region, in the heart of Ethiopia, some 645km from Addis Ababa, is a town famous for “monolithic rock-cut churches”.  LALIBELA is one of Ethiopia’s holiest places, second only to AKSUM, and it is a centre of pilgrimage.  Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.  Ethiopia is one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the 1st half of the 4th century, and its historical roots date back to the time of the Apostles.


The layout and names of the major buildings, in Lalibela, are widely accepted, especially by local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.  This has led experts to date the current church forms to the years following the capture of Jerusalem, in 1187, by Muslim leader —– SALADIN.

During the reign of St. Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, the current town of Lalibela was known as ROHA.  The saintly King was named so, because a swarm of bees is said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia.  Lalibela, the King’s name, means “the bee recognizes its sovereignty”.


King Lalibela, revered as a saint, is said to have seen Jerusalem (in a dream) and then attempted to build a New Jerusalem as his capital, in response to the capture of the Old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. The 11 medieval monolithic rock-cut churches of this 13th century New Jerusalem are situated in a mountainous region, in the heart of Ethiopia.  The churches were not constructed in a traditional way, but, rather were hewn from the living rock of “monolithic blocks”.  These blocks were further chiselled out forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs, etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs.  Each church was carved from a single piece of rock to symbolise “spirituality & humility”.  Christian Faith inspires many features with Biblical names, even Lalibela’s river is known as the River Jordan.

The 1st European to see these churches was the Portuguese explorer  —– PERO da COVILHA (1460-1526).  Portuguese priest —- Francisco Alvares (1465-1540), accompanied the Portuguese Ambassador on his visit to LEBNA DENGEL in the 1520s.  He describes the “unique” church structures as follows : “I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more ……….. I swear by God, in Whose power I am, that all I have written IS THE TRUTH.”


Although Ramuso included plans of several other churches in his 1550 printing of Alvares’ book, who supplied the drawings, remains a mystery.  The next reported European visitor to Lalibela —- MIGUEL de CASTANHOSO —— served as a soldier under Christovao de Gama, and left Ethiopia in 1544.  After de Castanhoso, 300yrs passed until the next European —– Gerhard Rohlfs —– visited Lalibela some time between 1865 and 1870.

According to the FUTUH al-HABASA of SIHAB ad-Din AHMAD, Ahmad Gragn burned one of the churches of Lalibela during his invasion of Ethiopia.  However, Richard Prankhurst has expressed his scepticism about this event, pointing out that although Sihab ad-Din Ahmad provides a detailed description of a rock-hewn church, is that it is the site of 11 rock-cut churches, NOT JUST ONE, and they are all within more or less a stone’s throw of each other.


The “Jerusalem” theme is important.  The churches, although connected to one another by “maze-like tunnels”, are physically separated by a small river, which the Ethiopians named the Jordan.  Churches on one side of the Jordan represent the “earthly Jerusalem”, whereas those on the other side represent the “heavenly Jerusalem” —— alluded to in the Bible.


UNESCO identifies 11 churches, assembled in 4 groups :  (1st group) —–

** BIETE MEDHAN ALEM (House of the Saviour of the world), home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the “largest monolithic church in the world”, with its 5 aisles.
** BIETE MARYAM (House of Miriam), possibly the oldest of the churches, and a replica of the tombs of Adam and Christ.
** BIETE GOLGOTHA MIKAEL (House of Golgotha Mikael), known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela.
** BIETE MASKAL (House of the Cross)
** BIETE DENAGEL (House of Virgins).
** BIETE GIVORGIS (Church of St. George), thought to be the “most finely executed” and “best preserved church”.
** BIETE AMANUEL (House of Emmanuel), possible the former Royal Chapel.
** BIETE QEDDUS MERCOREUS (House of St. Mark), which may be a former prison.
** BIETE ABBA LIBANOS (House of Abbot Libanos).
** BIETE GABRIEL  —- RUFAEL (House of the angels Gabriel and Raphael), possible a former Royal Palace, linked to a bakery.  ** BIETE LEHEM (House of Holy Bread).


Further afield, lie the Monastery of ASHETAN MERYAM & YIMREHANE KRISTO’S church (possibly 11th century, built in the AKSUMITE fashion, but within a cave).  The Churches are a “significant engineering feat”, given that they are all associated with water (which fills the wells next to many of the churches) exploiting an artesian geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which the city rests.


In a 1970 report of the historic dwellings of Lalibela, Sandro Angel evaluated the “vernacular” earthen architecture of the Lalibela World Heritage Site, including the characteristics of the traditional “earth houses” and analysis of their state of conservation.  His report described 2 types of “vernacular” housing found in the area.  The 1st type are a group he calls the LASTA TUKULS (round huts built of local red stone and having 2 storeys.  The 2nd group consist of the single-storey CHIKA buildings (round and built of earth and wattle, which he feels reflects more “scarcity”)  Angel’s report also included an inventory of Lalibela’s traditional buildings, placing them in categories rating their state of conservation.

Lalibela Ethiopia

Lalibela is also home to an airport, a large market, 2 schools and a hospital.  Lalibela is mentioned as “the city of priests and rock-hewn churches in Tananarive Due’s science-fiction novel ——— MY SOUL TO KEEP.

God’s way is best

The polyps which construct the coral reefs, work away under water, never dreaming that they are building the foundation of a new island on which, by-and-by, plants and animals will live and children be born and fitted for eternal glory.
If your place in God’s ranks is a hidden and secluded one, do not murmur, do not complain, do not seek to get out of God’s will, if He has placed you there, for without the polyps, the coral reefs would never be built, and God needs some who are willing to be spiritual polyps, and work away out of sight of men, but in full view of Heaven.

Gods way

The day will come when God will give the rewards, and He makes no mistakes, although some people may wonder how you came to merit such a reward, as they had never heard of you before.

Just where you stand in the conflict
There is your place
Just where you think you are useless
Hide not your face
God placed you there for a purpose
Whatever it be
Think He has chosen you for it
Work loyally.
Gird on your armour ! Be faithful
At toil or rest
Whatever it e, never doubting
Out in the fight or on picket
Stand firm and true
This is the work which your Master
Gives you to do.
Safely we may leave the crowded meeting, the inspiring mountain top, the helpful fellowship of men and betake ourselves to our dim homely Emmaus, or to our dread public Colossae, or even to our far Macedonia, quietly confident that just where He has placed us, in the usual round  of life, He ordains that the borderland may be possessed, the victory won.
—————Northcote Deck. 

Heddal Stavkirke

Heddal Stavkirke Norway

HEDDAL STAVKIRKE also known as HEDDAL STAVE CHURCH, a Norwegian Cultural Heritage Site, is a “triple-nave” stave church, located at Heddal in Notodden municipality, Norway, and is Norway’s largest stave church.
It was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century.  After the Reformation, the church was in a very poor condition and a restoration took place during 1849-1851.  However, because the restorers lacked the necessary knowledge and skills, yet another restoration was necessary in the 1950s.  The interior is marked by the period after the Lutheran Reformation in 1536-1537 and is, for a greater part, a result of the restoration that took place in the 1950s.

Heddal Stavkirke

There is a legend about the erection of the church and how it was built in 3 days.  Five farmers from Heddal had made plans for a church and they decided to build it.  One day one of the farmers met a stranger who was willing to build the church.  However, the stranger set down some conditions for doing the job, one of which was to be fulfilled before the church was finished.  There were three options : fetch the sun and the moon from the sky, forfeit his life-blood or guess the name of the stranger.  The farmer thought that the last option would not prove too difficult, so he agreed to the terms.


But time began to run out.  All the building materials had arrived during the first night, and remarkably the spire was built during the second.  It became clear to the farmer that the church would be finished on the third day. Down at heart and fearing for his life, he took a walk around in the fields trying to figure out what the stranger’s name could be.  Still wandering about, he had consciously arrived at SVINTRUBERGET ( a rocky hill southeast of the church site), when he suddenly heard a strange, but most beautiful clearly audible female voice : Hush-hush little child /  Tomorrow your father, Finn, will bring you the sun and the moon from the sky / Or a Christian man’s heart / As fun and games for my baby.
Now the farmer knew what to do, as the stranger was a “mountain troll”.  As expected, the stranger came by the next day to present the church.  Together, they walked over to the church, and the farmer walked up to one of the pillars and hugged it as if to straighten it and said, “Hey, Finn, this pillar isn’t straight.”  When the “troll” heard his name, he got mad and he punched the same pillar so hard that it nearly broke.  He then ran out of the church and up a hill.  From there he threw 3 huge boulders aimed at the church.  One fell to the left and one to the right and the 3rd one fell just outside the gate to the graveyard.  They were ringing the church bells when this was going on, and that is why the 3rd boulder did not hit the church.  Finn moved, along with his family, to HIMING.
In Norway alone, it was thought about 1000 “stave churches” were built, recent research has upped the number to about 2,000.  Many of them survived until the 19th century, while a substantial number were destroyed.  Today, 28 historical stave churches remain standing in Norway.


A STAVE CHURCH is a medieval wooden Christian church building, once common in north-western Europe.  The name derives from the building’s structure of POST & LINTEL construction, a type of TIMBER FRAMING where the “load-bearing posts” are called STAFR (in old Norse) and STAV in modern Norwegian.  Two related church building type, also named for their structural elements, the POST CHURCH & PALISADE CHURCH, are often also called STAVE CHURCHES.
Originally much more widespread, most of the surviving “stave churches” are in Norway.  The only remaining medieval stave church, outside Norway, are those of circa1500 at HEDARED in Sweden and one Norwegian stave church, relocated in 1842 to the outskirts of Poland.  One other church, the ANGLO-SAXON GREENSTED CHURCH in England, exhibits many similarities with a stave church, but is generally considered a Palisade Church.


In Palisade constructions, logs were split in 2 halves, set or rammed into the earth (generally called “post in ground” construction) and given a roof.  This proved a simple but very strong form of construction.  If set in gravel, the wall could last many decades, even centuries.  In Post Churches, the walls were supported by “sills”, leaving only the posts earth-bound.  Such churches are easy to spot at archaeological sites, as they leave very distinct holes where the posts were once placed.  The earth-bound posts were susceptible to humidity causing them to rot away over time.  To prevent this, the posts were placed on top of large stones, significantly increasing their lifespans.  In still later churches, the posts were set on a “raised sill frame” resting on stone foundations.  This is a stave church in its most mature form.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL, in Georgian literally means the LIVING PILLAR CATHEDRAL.  In Georgian “sveti” means “pillar” and tskhoveli” means “life-giving” or “living”, hence the name SVETITSKHOVELI.  This is an Orthodox Cathedral located in the historical town of MTSKHETA, Georgia, 20km north-west of the nation’s capital TBILISI.


SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL, known as the burial site of Christ’s Robe has long been the principal Georgian Church and remains one of the most venerated places of worship to this day.  It presently functions as the seat of the Archbishop of MTSKHETA & TBILISI, who is at the same time Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral1

The current Cathedral was built in the 11th century by the architect Arsukidze,, though the site itself is older dating back to the early 4th century and is surrounded by a number of legends associated, primarily, with the early Christian traditions.  It is the 2nd largest Church building in the country, after the recently consecrated —— Holy Trinity Cathedral of TBILIS, and is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site along with historical monuments of MSKHETA.

1. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtshekta, Georgia

The original Church was built in the 4th century AD during the reign of Mirian -3 of Kartli (Iberia).  Saint Nino is said to have chosen the confluence of the Mount Kvari and Aragvi rivers as the place of the 1st Gregorian Church.  According to Georgian “hagiography”, in the 1st century AD, a Georgian Jew —- Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.  He bought Jesus’ Robe from a Roman soldier (it was a seamless one) at Golgotha (also known as the “place of the skull”) and brought it back to Georgia.  Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia, who, upon touching the Robe, immediately died from the emotions engendered by the Sacred Robe, which could not be removed from her grasp and so she was buried with it.


The place where she was buried, with Christ’s Robe is preserved in the Cathedral.  Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree.  Ordering the cedar tree chopped down to build the Church, Saint Nino had 7 columns made from it for the Church’s foundation.  The 7th column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air.  It returned to earth after Saint Nino prayed the whole night.  It was further said that from the 7th column a sacred liquid flowed and cured people of various diseases.


SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL, portraying this event can be seen on the 2nd column on the right-hand from the entrance.  Reproduced widely throughout Georgia, it shows Sidonia with an angel lifting the column in Heaven.  Saint Nino is in the foreground : King Mirian and his wife Queen Nana are to his right and left.  Georgia, officially adopted Christianity as its state religion in 317.

Georgia Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Zodiac

SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL has been damaged several times during history, notably by the invasion of Persians and Timur.  It has also been damaged by earthquake.  During the restoration of 1970-71, the base of the Basilica was built.  During the early years of Gregorian Church building, the Basilica was the dominant type of the Gregorian Church architecture, before the “cross-dome” style emerged.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral inside

In the 11th century, the present SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL was rebuilt (from 1010-1029) in the “cross-dome” style by Arsukidze.  The Cathedral is surrounded by a defensive wall, built of stone and brick during the reign of King Heraclius in 1787.  The top storey was designed for military purposes and has gun emplacements.  The entrance to the cathedral, from the wall, is located to the south.  The wall has 8 towers : 6 of them “cylindrical” and 2 of them “square”.  Archaeological expedition in 1963, found the house of the Patriarch of the 11th century at the southern part of the wall.  Inside the churchyard, the remains of the 2-storey castle of Patriarch Anton —- 2 were found.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral top

The base of the 3-storey Church, is supposed to have been built by Vakhtang Gorgasali after Saint Nino’s original Church has been found by archaeologists during the restoration of 1970-71.  The architecture of the present Cathedral, which dates from around 1020, is based on the “cross-dome” style.  The characteristics of the style is that the “dome” is placed across all four sides of the Church.  The structure of the Church is intended to ensure “good acoustics”.  The dome of SVETITSKHOVELI was re-constructed several times over the centuries to keep the Church in good condition.


The basic stone used for the Cathedral is a “sandy yellow” with trimmings, while around the apse window a red stone was used.  The green stone used in the drum of the cupola is from the 17th century.  The “curved blind” arcading throughout is “unaltered” from the 11th century.  A large window occupies most of the western side of the Church.  The decorations show Christ sitting between two angels.  The original sculpture, on the external wall, has not survived, but was restored several times, most recently in the 19th century.


The interior walls are painted with frescoes, most of which have not survived in their original state.  The decorations on the Church’s stonework features ” carved grapes”, reflecting the country’s ancient wine-making tradition.  On the south side, there is a small stone Church built into the Cathedral.  This is a symbolic copy of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  It was built between the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries, and it was erected here to mark SVETITSKHOVELI as the 2nd most sacred place in the world (after the church of Jerusalem), thanks to Christ’s Robe.  Remains of the original “life-giving” or “living” pillar are also here.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral inside

The cathedral was not only the site of the coronation of the Georgian Kings, but also served as their burial place.  Ten of the Kings are known to have been buried here, although only 6 tombs have been found, all in front of the altar.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral long view

A 2010 UNESCO report has found that structural issues threaten the overall stability of the cathedral.