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      Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier's Story has just been released. The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain--"Ain't gonna study war no more." Golden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout that is […]
      Obie Holmen
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    • Getting Into the Holiday Spirit December 15, 2017
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I was inspired by a Eucharistic celebration this Sunday at the very beautiful baroque church of St. John of Nepomuk on the Rock, a short walk from my apartment here in Prague. The little church is an exquisite jewel-box of perfect loveliness and gives off an aura of humble pride in it’s delicate and ornate artistry. I couldn’t find any actual photos of the interior of the church and it’s remarkable ceiling, so have contented myself with some shots of the more famous St. Nicholas church in the Mala Strana District of Prague, a rather gaudy maidenly aunt up the road a ways,  completely lacking (in her garishness) any of the finesse and restraint of St. John’s On the Rock at Paleckeho Namesti. Frescoes of St. John Nepomuk adorn the ceilings of this miniature masterpiece of a church in pastels of pink and green, depicting events of his torture by the king’s servants and his death by drowning in the Vltava River. Most of these events are now considered legendary, and though the Catholic Encyclopedia defends the historicity of St. John of Nepomuk, more secular historians doubt his existence. Wicked people even go so far as to ‘blame’ the Jesuits for oh so wickedly concocting the entire legend in order to lead the Czech people away from their growing devotion to the great reformist martyr, Jan Hus, burned at the stake by the Catholic Inquisition for insisting, among other things, that laity and clergy should both partake of bread and wine at the Eucharistic celebration. Hus felt this was a vital practice to restore  in order to  teach the fundamental equality among all Christians, with no clerical caste assuming spiritual supremacy and superiority. It all sounds oh so familiar. He was burnt to a crisp for his views and here we are some 700  hundred  years later and not much has changed in attitude among the clerical caste (large portions of the laity leaping ahead of them) though communion under both elements is now widely practiced! The naughty slander against the Jesuits is probably unfounded, since the cult of John of Nepomuk, the saintly confessor who refused to break the seal of confession by revealing to the king the identity of the queen’s lover, was already widespread by the time of the Jesuits’ triumphalist takeover of Catholic culture in Prague in 1620 after the battle of White Mountain. Recent historical investigations have revealed, however,  that no John of Nepomuk was ever the queen’s confessor, so out the window goes that legend of ‘the martyr of the confessional’ (the first in Church history.) However, it also seems clear that the Jesuits did all in their power to further the cult of the ‘saintly confessor,’ which they inherited, and it’s not unfair to say that counteracting the growing  devotion to the saintly and genuine martyr, Jan Hus, was the Jesuits’ prime motive. How familiar it all seems. At Sunday’s mass, conducted in German for a small, very polite and restrained congregation of fifty, all of us together received the Eucharist under both elements, by tincture, under the watchful gaze of St. John – being tortured on the rack up above us on the ceiling – in delicate pastels of pink, lavender and green.  Was he also watching with a bemused eye the two male altar servers, one a very poised, handsome and self-possessed young man of about twenty-two and the other a fidgety, blond, blue-eyed Aryan boy of twelve as they attended to the grizzled, bearded and very somber celebrant? What thoughts we now have, O Lord,  and how long will they be with us? In any event, it all seemed rather peaceful up there on the ceiling, and perhaps that was St. John’s opinion of us down below, on this post Easter morning tincturing our hosts in the sacred wine, all of  us more or less equal together before the Lord and infused with the peace that “passeth understanding.”  Yesterday’s heresies and crimes have become today’s common practices and virtues. There’s a lesson in this somewhere. But despite all of the follies of past history and the present turmoil within the church, including the dismaying and rather ugly defense presently underway of a dying and corrupt clerical caste system, one could not deny the palpable sense of peace and sacredness that permeated this beautiful little church on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, a sacred mystery still thriving despite all attempts to sully it or use it in the interests of naked power.

(ceiling of a Church in Rome-I’ve lost the reference. These random reflections on churches and Eucharistic celebrations in the magnificent central European city of Prague are meant to provide an alternative reading to the customarily heady and scholarly analysis posted at Open Tabernacle. This is the third in the series. Prague is rumored to have more churches per square mile than any city on earth with the exception of Rome. Most of them were constructed in the 17th century against the wishes of the then Protestant majority of the populace. Today most of them remain empty, testimony to a more triumphalist age. The Czechs remain indifferent to religion, after centuries of seeing one particular form of it imposed on them from without. The Czechs prefer to find their spiritual sustenance in music and in nature.)


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