Ora et Labora

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“He who prays and labours lifts his heart to God with his hands”. [Lat., Qui orat laborat, cor levat ad Deum cum manibus.], Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in “Ad sororem”

The Wall

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“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”, Sir Isaac Newton


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“Whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, secretly all nature seeks God and works toward him.” – Meister Eckhart


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“Beware: some liers tell the truth”, arab proverb

Oh! The others!…

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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”, Carl Gustav Jung

Umberto Eco – Biography

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“I myself like easy books that put me to sleep immediately. But the normal reader who does not spend his day fighting with Kant or Hegel feels respected if there is a jujitsu with a novel, a resistance, a seduction. If the book says yes immediately, it is a whore.”

Piedmont, Italy

University of Turin; turned from law to medieval philosophy and literature, writing his thesis on Thomas Aquinas.

Other jobs
Editor, cultural commentator (his subjects have included Disney, the James Bond phenomenon and Chinese revolutionary comic books). His primary career was as an academic, working in aesthetics, literary criticism and – most famously – semiotics, a term coined by John Locke in 1690 (“the doctrine of signs; the most usual whereof being words, it is aptly enough termed also Logike, logic: the business whereof is to consider the nature of signs, the mind makes use of for the understanding of things, or conveying its knowledge to others”). Eco defines it as “a scientific attitude, a critical way of looking at the objects of other sciences”.

Did you know?
He first attempted fiction with The Name of the Rose, begun in 1978, purely because “I felt like poisoning a monk.

Critical verdict
A unique phenomenon – a bestselling professor – Eco is one of the few writers genuinely interested in both popular culture and high art, excelling at making the arcane accessible. The Island of the Day Before was his most experimental novel, suggesting that he no longer needs to sugar his historical encyclopaedias with thriller structures; Baudolino is a more accessible return to medieval legends and Byzantine complexity.

Recommended works
Foucault’s Pendulum, one of those wonderfully annoying books which finally reveals the great truth that there is no Great Truth, is both more compelling than Name of the Rose and more human, drawing on Eco’s own childhood.

Though Eco usually finds his inspiration in philosophy and history – Aristotle, the Templars – Name of the Rose’s monkish detective hero owes a lot to Sherlock Holmes. His obsession with libraries, mazes and hidden ivory towers also echoes Borges.

Now read on
Other ultra-literary thrillers to savour include The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, An Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears and – for the seriously erudite – Lemprière’s Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk.

The Name of the Rose translated surprisingly well to screen in 1986, with a masterclass in laconic understatement from Sean Connery, an early appearance from US bad boy Christian Slater and a convincingly medieval setting.

Reading Eco, ed Rocco Capozzi

Useful links and work online
· Official site

in guardian.co.uk

Are you scared of Friday the 13th?

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“Thirteen at a table is unlucky only when the hostess has only twelve chops.”

— Groucho Marx

Today is Friday, June 13th, 2008.

Scared yet?

OK, so you might not be that frightened, but for those Okies who suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia (yes, it’s a real word and it means fear of Friday the 13th) today is a day to stay in bed with your head under the covers.

And it’s been that way for a long, long time.

According to tradition, Friday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck in several countries, including England, France, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Sweden and even the Philippines.

The reasons vary. Several Internet-based resources say the day and date became infamous following the arrest of Jaques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. On Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, de Molay and 60 of his senior knights were arrested, and subsequently tortured by bad guys working for King Philip IV of France.

Following the knights’ “confessions,” Philip the IV had them executed and, again according to legend, from that day on, Friday the 13th was considered by followers of the Templars as an evil and unlucky day — which made sense as long as Philip was the one calling the shots.

Other legends say Friday the 13th got its black mark after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Many Christians believe Christ was crucified on Friday, the 13th, and some theologians even hold that Adam and Eve munched a few forbidden apples years earlier on that same date .

Still others claims the Biblical Great Flood began on Friday the 13th.

Whatever the reason, millions of people fear the date.

In fact, according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., more than 67 million Americans are afraid of Friday the 13th.

“Some people are so paralyzed by fear that they avoid their normal routines,” the institute said. “They stop doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed.”

The institute estimates that between $800 million and $900 million in revenue is lost each year because of the fear surrounding the date.

But not everyone is scared.

For Cleveland County Fairboard Marketing Director Sharon Harrell, Friday the 13th is her day to hit the casino.

“I love Friday the 13th,” she said. “That’s the day I go to Riverwind or some other casino. Everything good happens to me on Friday the 13th.”

And while Harrell admits to being “a little superstitious,” it’s more about barrel racing than dates.

“I’m a barrel racer,” she said. “And I have to have my watch in my left pocket and my hoofpick in the right pocket or I feel like something’s wrong. But as far as Friday the 13th goes, that’s always been a good luck day for me. Something good always happens.”

For Moore resident Deidre Ebrey, Friday the 13th has more to do with movies and less to do with luck.

Ebrey, Moore’s economic development director, said she associates the day with the movie by the same name. “When you’ve grown up around the date and the movie, you don’t think about superstition,” she said. “It’s more frightening than superstitious.”

Still, bad luck — whether it’s being killed by a maniacal ax-weilding zombie or just losing your credit card — is bad luck and, throughout history, a lot of bad things have happened on Friday the 13th.

For example:

· The 1889 Johnstown Flood.

· The 1929 stock market crash in the United States.

· The Black Friday bush fires in Victoria, Australia occurred on Friday, Jan. 13, 1939.

· The Uruguayan Rugby team crashed in the Andes mountain range on Friday, Oct. 13, 1972.

· Hurricane Charley made landfall near Port Charlotte, Florida on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004.

· The “Friday the 13th Storm” struck Buffalo, N.Y. on Friday, Oct. 13, 2006.

Then, there’s the connection with death.

In Britain, Friday was the conventional day for hangings and legend say the hangman’s gallows had 13 steps and the noose was wrapped 13 times.

In Norse mythology, the hero Balder was supposedly whacked at a banquet by the Norse god Loki on Friday. Balder had thrown a weekend party and invited 11 friends and — you guessed it — when Loki showed up the group grew to 13 and well, the rest was bad news.

Yet even while millions of residents fear the date, for one Norman man, Friday the 13th is just another day. For Father Edward Menasco, a priest at St. Jospeh’s Catholic Church, Friday the 13th is simply a day before Saturday, the 14th.

“No, I’m not superstitious,” Menasco said. “But I do think the myths surrounding the date came from the Knights Templar thing.”

And though Menasco believes people aren’t as superstitious as they used to be — as we get older, he says, “we become less superstitious — he does have some comfort for those who fear Friday the 13th.

“Just trust that God is protecting us,” he said.

And remember that Saturday, the 14th, will be here before you know it.

M. Scott Carter 366-3545 scarter@normantranscript.com

Umberto Eco: God isn’t big enough for some people

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We are now approaching the critical time of the year for shops and supermarkets: the month before Christmas is the four weeks when stores of all kinds sell their products fastest. Father Christmas means one thing to children: presents. He has no connection with the original St Nicholas, who performed a miracle in providing dowries for three poor sisters, thereby enabling them to marry and escape a life of prostitution.

Human beings are religious animals. It is psychologically very hard to go through life without the justification, and the hope, provided by religion. You can see this in the positivist scientists of the 19th century.

They insisted that they were describing the universe in rigorously materialistic terms – yet at night they attended seances and tried to summon up the spirits of the dead. Even today, I frequently meet scientists who, outside their own narrow discipline, are superstitious – to such an extent that it sometimes seems to me that to be a rigorous unbeliever today, you have to be a philosopher. Or perhaps a priest.

And we need to justify our lives to ourselves and to other people. Money is an instrument. It is not a value – but we need values as well as instruments, ends as well as means. The great problem faced by human beings is finding a way to accept the fact that each of us will die.

Money can do a lot of things – but it cannot help reconcile you to your own death. It can sometimes help you postpone your own death: a man who can spend a million pounds on personal physicians will usually live longer than someone who cannot. But he can’t make himself live much longer than the average life-span of affluent people in the developed world.

And if you believe in money alone, then sooner or later, you discover money’s great limitation: it is unable to justify the fact that you are a mortal animal. Indeed, the more you try escape that fact, the more you are forced to realise that your possessions can’t make sense of your death.

It is the role of religion to provide that justification. Religions are systems of belief that enable human beings to justify their existence and which reconcile us to death. We in Europe have faced a fading of organised religion in recent years. Faith in the Christian churches has been declining.

The ideologies such as communism that promised to supplant religion have failed in spectacular and very public fashion. So we’re all still looking for something that will reconcile each of us to the inevitability of our own death.

G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” Whoever said it – he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.

The “death of God”, or at least the dying of the Christian God, has been accompanied by the birth of a plethora of new idols. They have multiplied like bacteria on the corpse of the Christian Church — from strange pagan cults and sects to the silly, sub-Christian superstitions of The Da Vinci Code.

It is amazing how many people take that book literally, and think it is true. Admittedly, Dan Brown, its author, has created a legion of zealous followers who believe that Jesus wasn’t crucified: he married Mary Magdalene, became the King of France, and started his own version of the order of Freemasons. Many of the people who now go to the Louvre are there only to look at the Mona Lisa, solely and simply because it is at the centre of Dan Brown’s book.

The pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once asked if he believed in God. He said: “No. I don’t believe in God. I believe in something greater.” Our culture suffers from the same inflationary tendency. The existing religions just aren’t big enough: we demand something more from God than the existing depictions in the Christian faith can provide. So we revert to the occult. The so-called occult sciences do not ever reveal any genuine secret: they only promise that there is something secret that explains and justifies everything. The great advantage of this is that it allows each person to fill up the empty secret “container” with his or her own fears and hopes.

As a child of the Enlightenment, and a believer in the Enlightenment values of truth, open inquiry, and freedom, I am depressed by that tendency. This is not just because of the association between the occult and fascism and Nazism – although that association was very strong. Himmler and many of Hitler’s henchmen were devotees of the most infantile occult fantasies.

The same was true of some of the fascist gurus in Italy – Julius Evola is one example – who continue to fascinate the neo-fascists in my country. And today, if you browse the shelves of any bookshop specialising in the occult, you will find not only the usual tomes on the Templars, Rosicrucians, pseudo-Kabbalists, and of course The Da Vinci Code, but also anti-semitic tracts such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

I was raised as a Catholic, and although I have abandoned the Church, this December, as usual, I will be putting together a Christmas crib for my grandson. We’ll construct it together – as my father did with me when I was a boy. I have profound respect for the Christian traditions – which, as rituals for coping with death, still make more sense than their purely commercial alternatives.

I think I agree with Joyce’s lapsed Catholic hero in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?” The religious celebration of Christmas is at least a clear and coherent absurdity. The commercial celebration is not even that.

by Umberto Eco

The Bible in Ten Seconds

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A new version of the Bible was launched at Canterbury Cathedral in September 2005 by its author the Rev Michael Hinton.

The 100-Minute Bible includes all the familiar Old Testament stories and a narrative version of the four Gospels, concentrating on Jesus’ ministry. Rev Hinton claims it takes less than two hours to read.

Is it possible to sum up the Bible in an even smaller amount of time? BBC Radio 4’s Today programme set their listeners a challenge: to sum up the Bible in 10 seconds.

Here are some of the best 10-Second Bibles:

The lights came on,
we could see the rules,
but being lost,
we behaved as fools;
He came to save us,
died on the cross,
will we learn,
or are we lost?

James Barabas

God made everything there ever was, and it was perfect. Men and women mucked it up, so God sent his son Jesus to make things better. Not much changed, but those who follow Jesus go to heaven, a true revelation.

Sheila Carroll, Harlow, Essex

1. God makes everything
2. Man fights over it
3. God sends his son to fix things
4. We kill him, and carry on as before
5. The End

Tony Briskham

In the beginning God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit brought Faith, Hope and Charity; but their greatest gift was Love. Amen.

Steve Johnson, agnostic but open-minded

God’s todo list, remembering he can see the future. Found on stone post it note.

Make in seven days
Kick Adam out of Eden
Tell Jews made it
Flood it
Try again.
No good. Send son
Son sent back
Try again.
Wait a few years
Give up
Send horsemen.

Dave Nicholson, Windsor, Berks

God created the World.
Even his own people kept messing it up.
He sent his Son to sort it out.
Christians don’t behave as if they really believe it
So one day he’s coming again

Adrian Faiers, Chelmsford

bible haiku

an eye for an eye
father, son and holy ghost
turn the other cheek

Andrew Brown (Leeds)

In the beginning, God made the earth, made it perfect, like heaven. But man sinned and messed it up. For centuries and centuries he messed it up, even when he was wandering in the desert, even when he was trying to be good.

Eventually, God took pity on man, and sent his son, Jesus who really was utterly good. Man messed him up too, but because Jesus was so good, he didn’t mess up. He forgave man, and made a pathway back to heaven for him.

Clare F Harvey, St Albans

God created a great universe which greedy humans threatened to ruin. His son, Jesus, came to remind us of the rules but he was tortured and killed. Do better or else!

Dianne Kenny

A talking snake
A floating zoo
A burning bush, and then…
A man walks on water
Saying “Do what you ought ter!
Cos I’ll be back!”

Andrew Carroll, Brighton

The Hollywood ten second bible (well five actually) goes:

“man meets God man loses God man finds God”

David Barlow


in BBC Religion and Ethics. Excelent site, visit it.


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“When we raise ourselves through meditation to what unites us with the spirit, we quicken something within us that is eternal and unlimited by birth and death. Once we have experienced this eternal part in us, we can no longer doubt its existence. Meditation is thus the way to knowing and beholding the eternal, indestructible, essential center of our being.”, Rudolf Steiner

Spiritual Life

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“Spiritual life is like living water that springs up from the very depths of our own spiritual experience. In spiritual life everyone has to drink from his or her own well.”, St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Face it

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“Facing it, always facing it, that the way to get through. Face it.”, Joseph Conrad

Do it

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“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”, Eleanor Roosevelt

Intuitive Mind

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“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”, Albert Einstein


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“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”, Alexander Graham Bell