Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Mar Charbel

Mono-idolatry (monolatry) or monotheism? (Nov. 6, 2009)

Monotheism is a totally abstract concept that no human was yet able to feel physically loyal to a one, all-encompassing God.

The reality is that people are more inclined to be loyal to a saint, a shrine, or an honored Imam, or apostle.

People have need to use their senses to get connected to a spiritual entity: you cannot expect human to think exclusively of an abstract notion without the intermediary of their senses of seeing a representative picture, of smelling incense, of touching a bust, or of listening to a hymn.

I noticed that my dad, at each pass in front of the Virgin Mary or Mar Charbel (a national Saint), has to touch these pictures in the house with his index, kiss his index, and then sign the cross.  Dad is 85 years old and has refrained attending mass for years.

Mother is also devoted to the Virgin and all the national female saints such as Rafqa; she never misses an occasion to get in the car or a bus going to pay tributes to shrines; she pay money for the Saint that she has Not, so that the church make “good” use of it; obviously, Mar Charbel is in her pantheon too, along with the newly beatified Hardini.  It is interesting that most “miracles” occur at election times.

In all ages, whether a religion claim to be monotheist or polytheist people end up selecting a particular idol to pay allegiance to and write ex-votos to Him in order to be cured, enjoy prosperity, safety to the family, and safe travels.

Indeed, people are loyal idolaters to whom they perceive to be pretty much handy, accessible, and an excellent intermediary to the One God.

For example, in Latin America people are loyal to the Virgin Mary and cannot think of any other Saint to turn to in time of distress; thus, St. Mary of (name a city or a village), or the Virgin of (name a city or a town) and you have hundreds of Virgin Marie, tailored made to a specific locality, ready to come to the rescue.

The Greek Orthodox Church cannot think of more than two female saints to name girls at baptism ceremonies: it must be either Mary or Elizabeth; as for male kids you have an assortment of complicated and long Greek saints with plenty of X and Ch.

In Muslim Egypt and generally in North Africa, you have St. Fatima, Aicha, Ali, Hussein, the Imam of the legal sect, or the shrine of the veneered Sheikh of a locality is paid more attention and visits to any other worshiping figures.

Pictures of Muslim saints are prohibited in public places or in mosques but that do not prevent homes to hang pictures of their preferred saint as relevant to current standards of beauty for both genders.

There is this myth that the Jewish religion is the first to adopt monotheism; it is just a myth.

Ancient civilizations were never monotheists; they all had an overall God, nominally superior to the other demigods but that nobody paid much attention to or prayed to Him or even remembered asking his help in ex-votos.

El was the all-encompassing God in the Middle East as was Allah in the Arabian Peninsula or Zeus for the Greeks but He never generated a dime to tribes that had exclusive rights to his worship.

People converged to more palpable and understandable demigods and cities and towns adopted one of them as symbol and recognition of their trades or power.

In general, more weight was given to the “messengers of a God” (they were written in plural) than to a specific God.

Yahweh (God of thunder and war) was always one of the Gods to the Jews after Moses but might have converged to be the unique God to the Jews in Judea in the second century BC.

Many of Canaan demigods were far more beneficial and interesting than this newly created Yahweh that came into the picture during war periods. Then, Jewish mercenaries were asked to support Baal under the banner of the dusted off Temple and bust of Yahweh.

Salomon worshipped Ashtarout (the Goddess of Sidon of Lebanon) and Baal had many Temples in Jerusalem while Yahweh had only a small one.

One common denominator to all salafist or extremist religious sects (Christian, Jewish, Muslims, or cults) is being totally peeved and obfuscated that the One True God is being sidetracked for substitutes.

Joshua offered the Jews choices of keeping Yahweh as sole God or accepting other demigods.

When the Jews decided to keep exclusively a “tribal” God, then Joshua ordered all strangers’ Gods destroyed.

In ancient time, destroying the bust of a God didn’t mean that he no longer existed but that the local God was to be more efficient to the survival of the tribe or community.

When the Prophet Muhammad entered Mecca without a fight he ordered all the 160 idols destroyed or effaced (pictures) save two: Allah and the Virgin Mary.

Mary was not bestowed virginity at all, but she was veneered as the mother of the latest great prophet Jesus (Issa).

In Islam, idols were no longer Gods and never existed as was the case in ancient cultures. The early Protestants erased pictures and destroyed busts of all Saints except crucified Jesus.

For the Protestants, erasing pictures of Saints didn’t mean that Saints didn’t exist but they were not that worthy to be worshiped and supplant God through interceding.

The most honest monotheists were the “heretic” Christian sects that the Orthodox Christian Church during the Byzantine Empire persecuted relentlessly.

Most of these sects would not even bestow a divine nature to Jesus and Marie was not virgin by any means; no pictures or drawings were permitted for any Saints.

The farthest that these sects could indulge in is to veneer the apostle whom they claimed to have written the “true” Testament they adopted and read in.

I have noticed that centralized churches promote many saints with pictures and busts; it is a tactic to please the people so that it may enjoy total control over their temporal existence.

These centralized churches inherited pagan religions and aided a lot to that widespread propagation of multiple idols for each locality.

Decentralized religions have no urge to promoting idols and pictures such as in Islam: it is the temporal power at every state that appoints clerics, Imams, and sheiks.

I don’t see why all that fuss for monotheism.

If a few tribes still refuse to believe that it is earth rotating around the sun or that earth is flat why then submerge them with an extra abstract notion?

Killing and committing suicide attacks in the name of a God is not an abstract act; this does not mean that human mind cannot reach a level of distortion that far surpasses the mere abstraction of a One God, creator of man and the universe.

Mystics and Sufis (June 16, 2009)

 

 

            Sufis refers to those who wore wool (souf) clothing summers and winters. Probably the first known Moslem Sufi is Abou Achem who died in 780.  Moslem mystics and Sufis, of both genders, judged that sexual desire was the main enemy of rational thinking.  They comprehended this dialectic: You cannot vanquish your enemy if you fail to know the enemy completely since the mind is the most valued part in man. 

            In “Memorial of Saints” Hasaan Basri said of the woman Sufi Rabi3a Al Adawiya “I stayed a day and a night by Rabi3a, discussing with such ardor on spiritual ways and mystery of life that I had no idea if I was man and she a woman” The differences between genders that permit union is viewed as the pre-condition for access to plenitude.

 

            The Sufi Al Hallaj (857-922) was Persian and was burned alive for going too far in his mysticism; he said “God and I are one; I am the One I love; the One that I love has become me; I was exuberant in my love: I am chastised for that loving exuberance; my death is to survive and my life is to die; I feel that abolishing my bodily life is the noblest grace I was offered; my survival as I am is the worst of wrongdoing. My living has disgusted my soul. When I am dead you will find amid the calcified bones the surviving souls.”

 

            Love is no longer a sign of weakness. “Eros subjugates the hearts of only the one who carries the mark of excellence and a great delicate temperament” said Abi Hanifa. “Love has the motif of an imperishable vision of beauty and splendor.” said Addaylami. In the world of the Sufis separation of man-woman and man-god are blurry; the dividing lines are shifting constantly. The veil that hides the “others” is flimsy because love is a perpetual attempt to discovering the ultimate in beauty, intensity, and refinement.

            Fundamentally, Islam is the religion of reason.  Desire is thus the risk to take that might distract you of knowing God the focal point.  Sexuality is not opposite to civilization but desire (a component of sexuality) is.  Reason has to control desire; if desire (al hawa) meddle in science it pollutes it into error; if desire is exercised in power and overtakes the powerful then it corrupt both and lead to injustice. If desire intercedes in the Imam then religious laws and commandments are transformed from their proper meaning.  Imam Ibn Al Jawzi said: “there is no sleep heavier than inattention (al ghifla) and no servitude as complete as desire.  If we exercise constant reflection then desire cannot triumph.  There is negative correlation between reason and desire; as one takes the ascendance then the other wanes into oblivion. Thus, the will (azm) and capacity of discernment (ra2i) are the two main aspects of the mind”

            Desiring a woman may lead to succumbing to evil “the arrow in Satan’s arsenal that never misses is when he dispatches a woman to his victim”.  Al Hallaj said: “If you assign a sensual individual to legitimate functions then he will occupy you in illegitimate activities. Learn to control and govern your behavior.”

 

            Mystics are found in most religions; many of the “prophets” led mystic life of denigration of the body, eating lightly, fasting frequently, praying, contemplating nature and the living things around them, and seeking seclusion of society.  I have visited one of the “monasteries” of the Maronite monks who were secluded from society at the altitude of 1,400 meters where snow covers the tiny village 7 months a year.  I have seen the room (2*3) meters of Mar Charbel, beatified as Saint for miracles he performed after his death, and I could not believe how a person could sustain such rough weather wrapped in a single blanket on a thin mattress. Those mystic monks were allotted a garden to plough and they refused to meet with their parents and cousins.  They read only religious books.

            I may understand someone who experienced life to the hilt deciding to change his life style; but for an adolescent to start a mystic life does not seem right and normal. This kind of “grace” is pure expediting punishment for a youth imposed by institutions.

 

            Mystics and Sufis, of both genders, achieved the highest level of serenity in personal victories after mastering the characteristics of the enemy to defeat; they faced it boldly; they lost many battles but their purpose was to keep up the struggle.  Steadfastness in the struggle for the victory of rational thinking is the discipline of the courageous and strong men and women.

Julia or Julie (May 1, 2009)

I happened to know Julia intimately: I was forced to observe her behaviors and sometimes succumb to her will.

Julia is the type of women who are always on alert; she is ultra prude and claims that she has never been on a beach or wore any kinds of swimming trunks.

Julie cannot sit down, relax, or let anyone relax.  She has to worry about everyone and everything.

Julia loves money but never handled money wrote a check or had a bank account: She is thrilled when she sees construction and buildings going up and sounds envious.

Yes, Julia has never set foot in a bank or wrote a check or withdrew money, I think.

Julia is an excellent cook, a talented dress designer (currently you say a fashion designer), and sew clothes to all her sisters, daughters… for every major event.

And loves to remodel the house when she can afford it, a gene that my sister inherited.

She wants her family members (especially the girls and ladies) to look as well dressed and as coquettish as she used to be; a tendency that forces her grandchildren and children to avoid passing by her when they have “sinned” against dignified fashion (like looking pretty nude).

Julia has humongous pride and she would not visit a patient or go to any anniversary when she cannot afford gifts (her unique daughter is taking after her in many ways).

If she receives a gift (and if she cannot afford offering a gift) then she has to rummage through her secret “depot” in one of the closets for a suitable counter gift.

Lately, cooking something for the returned dish is what she could offer. Julia believes that she knows something and has to offer her recommendations and guidance to people of professions, even if they are over sixty.

In 1939, Julia’s mother Eugenia left Lebanon to West Africa in order to join her husband Tanios in Segou (current State of Mali). The four sisters were left alone and joined a boarding school in Beit Chabab.

And the WWII started and they had to skip school for the duration.  The sisters did not attend school for 3 years during the war because all schools closed, although Lebanon was not directly affected.

The eldest sister Josephine was 13 and Julia 11 years old at the time.

Julia’s aunt and her extended family lived across the street. When Josephine eloped (got married “khatifeh“) at the age of 20 the other three sisters were re-interned in a school of Beit Chabab for two years.

The summer before the non-married daughters had to join their parents in Segou, they lived alone a mile away from Beit-Chabab (to what is now called Konetra) so that they don’t emulate their eldest sister in eloping.  In the meanwhile, Eugenia gave birth to many other children and at least three died in child-birth.

Julia once believed that she had scabies “jarab” when she was in a girl school in Beirut and aged 18 years.  Scabies was pretty common and when her between hand fingers  were itching she tried to cure herself secretly.

Julia told me said that “jarab” was very contagious; she secretly spent a whole week in an upper room at her sister Josephine’s who got married recently.  Julia said that nobody in the village knew about her ailment, a convenient assumption for this dreaded disease at the period, and she washed her clothes and bedding almost everyday.

This story came about when an overseas grand daughter called saying that her physician was uncertain about his diagnosis of her catching “jarab”; the diagnosis turned out to be wrong but it generated a secret story that Julia told me.

I really have no idea what Julia learned in school except cutting patrons and learning sewing and fashioning clothes. She always said that she got dizzy when reading.

Julia joined her parents in Africa by sea. The captain of the ship heading toward the port of Marseilles never believed that she’ll make it alive: Julia spent a month in her cabin unable to eat, drink or move because she suffered sea sickness.

Julia was as thin as a stick with a tough will for survival.

Any moving object makes Julia dizzy; heights make Julia dizzy; tree climbing is out of the picture.  Hell for Julia must be a rotating platform; worst, a wobbly, jerky, and seesaw habitat.

In fact, Julia never played games in school or anywhere else.

Physical games, especially for girls, are not dignified. Reading is extremely dizzying to Julia; watching someone reading intently must be giving Julia grounds to believing that the reader is “dizzy” in the head.

Julia married in Africa a handsome, loyal, over generous and devoted husband whom she fell in love in the same town in Lebanon before she travelled to Africa.

George must have sensed that he is marrying a handful of expectations and constraints.  Youth always turns a blind eye to potential troubles because youth can handle anything and never ages.

This valiant couple worked hard in harsh conditions as the sole white people in remote African villages.  They were robbed of every dime several times; once, in the town of Koutiala (Republic of Mali) and what they had saved was gone overnight; Julia was on her last week of pregnancy (of me) and George suffered kidneys problems out of grief.

Right now, when any neighboring house or shop is stolen Julia plays the investigator; everyone is suspect until the culprit is discovered: she does roam her house after every robbery story, checking exits and entrances; mouse and cats should no longer be susceptible to be entering the house.

Those 15 years in Africa must have been the best and most glorious years for this couple. They were the first to purchase an electric generators in the town of Sikasso.

This undaunted couple resumed their joint adventure to above average fortune.

Julia knew how to combine business with charity; she would offer every poor pregnant woman a “trousseau” for the new-born for free. Thus, she retained life-long customers and the competitors could not match her business acumen.

Julia sewed and altered dresses that she ordered by catalog from Paris.

When Julia returned definitely to Lebanon, her unique daughter among the other 2 boys, (well spaced them out in age, an advanced serious family planning), was never seen wearing the same dress twice in any ceremony.

Since two identical dresses take as much time to sew as one, then her niece Joelle was observed as a replicate twin, regardless of whether Joelle liked the dress or the color.

This couple was the first to install a generator for electricity in this remote town.  They transferred their three kids to boarding schools in Lebanon for fear of African diseases  because the eldest son barely survived Typhoid. And the couple would visit them one summer every two years.

Julia spent a month in Paris in 1980 to care for her first grandson William who had an open heart surgery at the age of 16 months.  William had a hole that mixed the blue and red blood in the heart and an artery that was twisted. The hospital offered a makeshift bed for Julia to sleep on for 23 days in William’s emergency room.

Julia also cared for Joanna, her favorite grandchild, for over 6 months when Joanna’s parents were in the USA on military training mission in 1985.

Joanna likes to return the favor and she volunteers to driving Julia to shrines such as Mar Charbel, Mar Rafka, and Harissa of the Virgin Mary; these are occasions for Julia to confess her grave sins for caring too much and doubting occasionally.

Julia spent 6 months in the USA in 1990 when I lived with my sister Raymonde’s family; Victor was then appointed Military Attaché to Lebanon for two years and Julia enjoyed that reprieve from war torn Lebanon and the constant blackmailing of the militias for more money when there was nothing to pay. She had to pawn her few gold rings or necklaces to appease the frightened husband.

Julia recalls that it was the hardest trip ever when she visited in the US: Victor had a terrible backache and she had to carry Victor’s bags which were packed with heavy gifts.

Julia is suffering from arthritis and a whole gamut of blood problems but she forces herself to work hard everyday as means to letting pain forget her.

She has excellent memory of ancient events.  Currently, she barely can recall names and I barely can come to the recall rescue.

Julia is currently prone to letting two casseroles burns and barely save the third: she cannot waste time and has to do several tasks simultaneously.

Julia cannot believe that she aged and has a wrinkled face. All mirrors must be destroyed but Julia would never break anything consciously.

George neither cannot believe that he aged; he just want to be left alone and not be immersed in problems that should not be of his concerns, especially that he is no longer a provider and almost destitute; but to whom are you chanting your psalms George?

George is happy to realize that his hearing is not that sharp and gets terribly frustrated when he has to repeat muted answers to Julia’s unending queries and requests.

Julia barely sleeps at night because in the solitude of the night her brain is working full-time inventing all kind of catastrophic events that might befall on any one of her extended family.

Her dreams are of the cataclysmic kinds, though one individual at a time, one dead person after another parading in succession in her dream.  Apparently, nights are more exhausting for Julia than charged days’ work.

When Julia walks out now she is constantly observing changes in her environment; such as the progress in the construction of the villa next door, the new design for neighbors gardens…

There was a time when Julia walked straight ahead and never deigning to turn her head:  She must have been convinced that she was the center of attention; she stepped out in utter elegance and vigorous gait.

Julia’s nemesis is death: when she gets upset from any member of the family she tends to ward off this fatal enemy by threatening: “This winter would be my last and you all would be delivered from my trouble making”. She has a white fancy gown stowed away for that occasion.  I hope that Julia has let someone on the proper location of the dress.

Julia is the strong type of women. Julia cannot be circumvented.

Julia is every bit on alert, the “mustanfara“, even at 83 years of age.  She is totally broke financially but that would not constitute a valid reason to let down her purpose in life: Keeping everyone on his toes.  Julia is my mother.

Note: Four years after writing this article Julia is unchanged: She is in much pain, more forgetful, and taking all kinds of medication, but Julia is undaunted. I realized that Julia is chatting far more than usual: She is thinking aloud, kind of her thinking keeps the right track if accompanied by words.

Julia wakes up at 6:30 am and begin her day, working non-stop till after 1 pm as her back aches and her fingers are crippled. Her husband, only 3 years older, doesn’t take any medication but his health is deteriorating fast and George is almost bed-ridden.

George is in  care and recovering. Julia refuses to go home to rest even for a couple of hours: She has to stay and sleep in the hospital room of her husband. The nurses tell Julia not to feed George what the hospital does not bring to eat, and I tell Julia not to feed George, and Julia believes she knows George better and what is good for George…

I tell Julia that George enjoys loneliness and would not recover as long as she never leaves his side and keeps chattering. Maybe I am wrong: I was showing George how to ring the nurses for emergencies and George chuckled softly and replied: “Why would I ring anyone when Julia is around?”

Julia is saying: “It was a good tradition to marry a husband at least 5 years older than you: So that the wife can care for him in old age...”. Joanna flew from London for a weekend just to give Julia  a boost. The moment Julia receives a boost, it sounds trouble for the extended family.

Note 2: Julia passed away at age of 92 on January 31, 2020 at 2 pm at the hospital of Beit-Chabab. Except for her heart, her vital organs started to fail. She endured unthinkable pains for an entire week, every minutes of it. She was Not feeling good before she fell in the bathroom trying to undress: there was no one at the time and I found her lying on the floor in great pain.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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