Friday, April 30, 2010

Pilgrimage at the Saint Paul University Museum

World War II Memorial at St. Paul University QC

Dr Abe V Rotor
Museum Faculty Curator

At a corner inside the St Paul University Museum in Quezon City, where once stood an altar many years ago when the Japanese invaders converted the campus into a concentration camp, a small group of visitors bowed in deep thoughts and prayers. For a moment these pilgrims transformed the museum into a holy place.

It was like turning back the hands of time into the Second World War. Now there is peace. There was hatred, but that too, has given way to forgiveness. Despair, and now hope, pride into humility. These contrasting scenarios provide very valuable lessons of man. For man is tempered by war and mellowed by the peace that follows afterward. All these took place in half a century or so.

The SPUQ museum stands as a witness of the history that shaped the school. The events are the lifeblood of the museum - its walls originally the immaculate walls once stained with blood speak of peace, its pillars the original pillars that withstood the atrocities of war and the tests of the elements and time attest to endurance and posterity.

The museum is not only a repository of history; it is the abode of history. It is like Fort Santiago or the Paco Cemetery. Or the great Pyramids of Egypt, the City of the Dead of the Aztecs, walled city of Jerusalem and St Peter’s in Rome. These museums have one thing in common: they are part of history. They are living relics that chronicle past events, stirring nationalism while promoting brotherhood in men. They strengthen universal values and rekindle the spirit. They bring the relationship of man with his Creator closer and harmonious.

Since its opening in late 1994, many pilgrims, old and young, parents and students, city and rural folk, have brought significance to the museum. Other than being an educational institution, it has somehow earned respect for pilgrimage.

Burning of St Paul School during WWII, wall mural, AVR

The building is a early American architecture bearing the basic designs of Greco-Roman style – high ceiling, prominent, bare and square pillars, solid walls with small grilled windows. The entrance is unassuming, yet there is an aura of dignity that engulfs one on opening the door. For a panoramic view meets the eye, with virtually all four corners optically converging. The scene is accentuated by the massive murals depicting some chapters of the life of St. Paul, and widened by the transparency of the glass cabinets allowing the eye to roam freely.

All these no doubt contribute to the pilgrimage atmosphere. But what is revealing is the gathered information of the place coming from no less than the sisters, many of them in their seniors and living at the nearby Vigil House then. Some of the informants have already died, but the memory of the place lives on.

The senior sisters recall the place as a prayer house. “There was an altar which was located towards the left corner of the room adjacent to the backdoor.” And they would point out the place in the museum. The backdoor leads to the basement used as clinic during the Japanese occupation. The wounded and the sick were led to the prayer house and to spend time meditating, praying, or just to let time pass by. On several occasions the dead were brought in for the wake.

Imagine that for a period of four years, SPUQ then a novitiate and a school for elementary and high school, was made into a garrison and concentration camp, the same way the Japanese did to UST during the same period. And also to De La Salle University in Pasay. We do not know how many died but many Filipino, American and Japanese soldiers died here. There were local residents, foreigners, women and children who also died.

My students would ask me whenever I tell them the story if there are ghosts on the campus – or spirits of the dead. “Have you seen or felt their presence?” I would counter. And the conversation lengthens, creating a world of the supernatural in the process.

Anyone would believe in spirits that may make their presence felt in one way too many, depending on who is telling the story and who are listening. I for one sensed their presence on a number of occasions. The question with believing in the supernatural though is that the mind cannot decipher reality from imagination. But it is this aspect from which we build our stories and beliefs. Take this experience as an example.

In 1995 I was painting Saul on Damascus Road into the night alone. The museum was dead silent. What a ideal time to paint! Then suddenly the arm of Saul “moved” an inch downward. My brush missed the outline. I made the necessary correction but this time the arm had moved upward and now I have two errors to correct. I told myself I was too tired, and left the museum for home. That night I dreamt of Saul holding a red robe, which he was to use to clothe the dying Christ. Early that morning I went to the museum and continued painting the arm. I fixed Saul’s right hand and put on the red robe on it. Where did the idea of the red robe come? Was it a dream or a message I got? What made his arm move? Or was it a way of getting a message across?

Saul on Damascus Road (8ft x 8ft, AVR)

I remember at one time in the early part of the painting I received visitors while I was painting the sky on makeshift scaffolding. Causally they would come and take a look at my work. Sometimes they would ask me a question or two and I would obligingly give an answer without breaking my concentration. One evening a kind sister visited the museum. She stood for sometime looking at what I was doing on the scaffolding. Anyone at the top could not see well the person below. And not know when she came and had gone. What I remember was her large hat, but that crossed my mind only days later. Who was she? Where did she come from at 9 in the evening?

At one time I was painting Paradise after Rome. This time I did it at home at our front yard. It took me until dusk. A silhouette figure kept passing at the corner of my eye. I would have dismissed it but it came twice, thrice, not saying a word and not pausing. But there is semblance of the figure I was painting with the silhouette – a bearded man and heavily built, clothed in flowing robes. The big difference though is that the man I was painting was about to be beheaded while the silhouette was roaming free, with an air of dignity and command.

The following day I changed the man on my painting. Yes, death, I realized is resurrection. So I painted Paul, the resurrected, on the day of his execution when Rome was razed by Nero’s torch.

Paul survives shipwreck on the Mediterranean mural (AVR)

Spirits to me are guiding signals that sometimes take the form of humans. They carry messages that lead us to the theme of our art such as in these particular cases. The denominator is goodness – they help us seek goodness, and goodness leads us to truth – truth that is built by strong faith other than reason.

Can we decipher messages the same way we receive communications in daily life? I say no, not always. For the message with deep meaning are not readily evident. One has to labor in order to understand it, and capture the essence of that message.

For example on the painting, School in Ruins, which I entitled in an accompanying verse, Grow and Bloom, Grow and Bloom, an outline of a young devil cast a shadow on the burnt building. This was discovered while I was working on the dying smoke emanating from the fresh ruins. Someone almost shouted at me, “Stop, stop!” Then he explained. He was seeing a devil in outstretched hand hovering over the ruins. I preserved the outline. Anyone who comes to the museum today experiences the same thing the discoverer made 15 years ago. Yes, the war, the killing, the burning, the looting are works of the devil. His imprint makes us aware not to submit ourselves to evil, but rather fight it at all cost.

A pilgrim took notice of Saul talking with Christ on Damascus road. Did Christ really appear to him? But look again at the painting. That is why those who come to the museum stay longer than just to visit. They pray. They wish.

Students facing the trials of defending their thesis come to the museum. They come from UST, Pamantasan ng Maynila and other schools. Students seeking entry in medicine proper, reviewers in bar and board exams – they come and wish. There are those who came back, others have not. Well, in the story of the ten lepers, not all came back to thank. There are many ways to thank, of course, such as doing good for others.

Oh, Centennial, Oh Centennial (8ft x 8 ft, AVR)

The community takes pride in having a museum accredited by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and the museum curator sits in one of the Commission’s sub-committees. The SPUQ Museum is also a member of the Association of Museums in the Philippines. Because of these, the school has the opportunity to take part in various national programs in health, environment, historical events, food and nutrition, and community development, to name the major events. In return, the museum is recognized for its effort. It is one of the very few school museums given such distinction.

Face of Christ in the Woods (AVR)

Our own students, faculty and the whole community recognize that here in a not far away land is a little Smithsonian, a little Gethsemane, a little Lourdes, and a little Sistine Chapel. And the same grace we find in those places is also found here – here at the Saint Paul University Museum. ~
Author’s Note: Prominent pilgrims to the SPCQ Museum include high government officials, leaders in the business, university professors, journalists, personalities in the entertainment world, Filipino balikbayan and their families. Their identities are kept to give due respect to their person and privacy. The museum celebrates its 15th year in June 2010.

A Walk with Nature, AVR

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ephemerid World

Fire tree (Delonix regia) - its full summer bloom -
doused by the first rain of May. Acrylic AVR (1988)

Abe V Rotor

True beauty’s so brief and shy,

And elusive to behold,
Gaining all the eyes of the world,
Yet alone to be awed.

Beautiful. Yes you are!
Clothed with the colors of the sun;
For now you’re a flower shining,
Shining, dying.

Sparkling dewdrops cling and rise
To bring down a passing cloud;
Beauty can’t wait, like the seed.
Waking to nature’s bid.

Friendship earned but in a glance,
Like butterflies on a tree;
Resting on a long journey,
To where they are free.

Ephemerid World

World is Beautiful, we have the license to be the stewards of our own home, not to destroy it.We have many natural resources that gives life to our environment, we should know how to use it.

The article gives us the realization that everything that we have is a gift from God. We should be stewards of it and be a good role model to others.
- Chiara Alyssa Cochico

Don't Cut the Trees, Don't, UST-AVR

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Young marine biologists - unveiling the secrets of the sea

Abe V Rotor

Discovering an underwater world
On-site, hands-on study of marine life

Studying specimens washed ashore

Microscopic world of plankton
Lighter moment with a mass of green alga
Phycology class from University of Santo Tomas, Faculty
of Pharmacy at work in Bacnotan, La Union, circa 1995

Your wealth oh, sea, so enormous we don't know your limit;
Little do we know your creatures, nil on your dark floor,
The power of your tides and waves, humming on your shore,
At your edge we look beyond, but first under our feet.~

Living with Nature 3, AVR (All Rights Reserved)

Part 1: Countryside Scenes

Acacia tree with epiphytes, ADMU-QC

Earthworm castings, La Mesa Eco Park, QC

Flower of pongapong (Amophophallus campanolatus), Silang, Cavite

Deciduous talisay (Terminalia catappa) in autumn colors, La Mesa Dam, QC

Maiden's hair fern on adobe, DLSU Damariñas, Cavite
Auricularia (tainga ng daga) and foliose lichen colonize fallen tree, Mt Makiling, Laguna

Pineapple everywhere, Tagaytay

Part 1: Countryside Scenes

Pineapple farm, Tagaytay

Fungus garden, Mt Makiling, Laguna
Abe V Rotor

Monday, April 26, 2010

Part 3: Countryside Scenes

Photos by Abe V Rotor

Drynaria fern on acacia (Tagudin, Ilocos Sur)

Ant lion pits - traps to unwary preys (Agoo, La Union).

Caleza on cobbled street. (Vigan, Ilocos Sur)

Native products - buri bag, tinubong, etc. (Vigan tourists' center)

Fruit laden nangka, (Agoo, La Union)

Carabaos beating the summer heat on flowing stream. (Agoo, La Union)

Bamboo bridge. (Agoo, LU)

Tree House, on century old acacia (Rosario, La Union)

Practical Technology Series 1 - Home-made tapa

Photos by AVR. Sto. Domigo, Ilocos Sur

Tapa is prepared by sundrying. To prevent flies, sandwich the meat with fine aluminum mesh. To prevent ants, place stool in basin half-filled with water. Three to six hours are needed to make tapa. Try this method with fish, small or sliced, Try this method in drying fruits like native cherry, sliced mango, pineapple and banana. ~

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Philosophical Quips.

Abe V Rotor

• Old man to young man: “I have eaten more rice than you had.” (Meaning the old man is more knowledgeable by experience.)

• Old man to young boy: “Amoy gatas ka pa lang, hijo.” (“You smell of milk, child,” a sarcasm comparing ignorance with the innocence of a child.)

• “Isang sigarilyo lang ang layo.” (It’s only a cigarette away, the distance covered by smoking a stick of cigarette.)

• “Pumurao ton’ diay uwak.” (Ilk) Literally, “The black crow will turn white.” You cannot wait for the impossible.

• “Hindi mo magising ang gising.” You can’t wake up one who is already awake.

• “Agannad ka no saan mo nga kayat ti agtangad ti barsanga.” This is a cold warning on the face, which literally means “Beware if you don’t like to look up at the grass.” (barsanga is sedge, a relative of the grass growing on open field).

• “Saan nga napan no saanna nga nayon.” (“It’s not there if it’s not part of it.” - referring for example, fly maggots in fermenting fish sauce or bagoong.)

• “Di ka pay la nakuret.” (Better if you had died of kuret, a tiny poisonous crab that resides in the gills of big fish.)

• “Matira matibay” It refers to Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest.”

• Nothing goes up that does not go down. This phrase refers to one who has reached the pinnacle of wealth or power.

• “Aramid ti saan nga agdigdigos.” (“It's a work of a hippie or bum.”)

• “Balat sibuyas.” (An expression that refers to one who easily gets peeved.)

. "Biruin mo na ang lasing wag lang ang bagong gising." Make fun to a sober fellow than one who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. (Contributed by Elaine Batica)

."Daig pa ng maagap kaysa masipag" meaning, early birds have more opportunities than those who merely work hard. (contributed by Elaine Batica)

Add to the list for our followers and readers to enjoy philosophies at the grassroots. Comment in this Blog, or send it by e-mail

Living with Folk Wisdom, AVR

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Environment: A Pocket Tropical Rainforest in the City

Towering dita (Alstonia scholaris), UST Botanical Garden

Abe V Rotor

What really makes a beautiful garden may draw to school of thought- Romanticism and functionalism. The University of Santo Tomas botanical garden does not take side in the issue; it portrays both in an integrated, harmonious design patterned after the richest and the most enviable biome on earth- the tropical rain forest.

The new face of the garden is striking. Let us begin with the cascading 6- foot waterfall and trace its flow on a meandering rocky stream that ducks under a footbridge before plunging into the depth of a pond, its bottom murky and cool and rich in detritus. Here calms and snails, and other bottom dwellers, mostly decomposers, reside, shy from the sun and remain ensconced in the very food source that settles down. Such in the niche of these sessile, benthic organisms.

Bryophyte Garden

Along the “river”, the water keeps the environment fresh and cool, lapping at the rock, sending spray on its banks. Through time, on the walls of the waterfall and on any rocks that lies across the path of water, grow countless kinds of algae and mosses that build layer after layer until a carpet is formed, thus giving rise to another niche- the domain of bryophytes in Lilliputian imagery, or one depicted in the movie, “ Honey, I shrunk the kids”.

Bryophytes are among the earliest plants and are, therefore, primitive. It is as if we are turning the hands of time some two billion years ago or so, when these prototypes began to fill the atmosphere with oxygen, which later favored the growth of more, advanced vegetation. Perhaps their most outstanding contribution is in oil building, breaking up rocks exfoliating them, virtually skinning them with their acidic foothold, and, together with their biomass, making a mass we call soil.

Micro- Climate Effect

The ultimate source of water is the sky, from the clouds that gather and grow atop the forest. Transpiration and evaporation combine to attract the clouds, which come down as a shower or a downpour at any time of the day or night. It is for this phenomenon that this biome got its to simulate this condition, the waterfall and running streams, together with a large fountain and a series of ponds near by, maintain high humidity in the area that is the key to the formation of a multi- story vegetation and myriad of resident organisms.

It will take time for the UST botanical garden to reach the status of a true typical rainforest. Years shall pass, and in the process students and visitors shall witness here, the transformation of one sere after, until a climax community is formed. It is not only for the scientific and aesthetic aspect that count; it is for something more - that which presents itself in the realm of ethico- morals that governs man in his role in God’s creation- the transformation of man himself as a true and faithful steward.

Evolving Ecosystem

Orchids find a home on the trunk of big trees without harming them.

The UST botanical garden is being transformed as a deliberate expression of an evolving ecosystem. It is Nature’s laboratory and a playing field of biological diversity.

Environment: A Pocket Tropical Rainforest in the City As a field laboratory the garden demonstrates ecological cycles- invasion, colonization, competition, and emergence of dominant species as well as seasonal and long term succession patterns. We may not have the four distinct seasons, but there are tropical trees that demonstrate some characteristics they carry in their ancestral genes, such as deciduousness in narra ( Ptercarpus inducus), our national tree.

The garden is a living manifestation of dynamic balance in a changing environment with the organisms constantly adjusting to the demands of the latter, but in the process slowly affecting the environment itself. Such transformational stages, called seres, always lead towards homeostasis, and the result is a climax ecological system.

As a showcase of natural habitats, the garden adjusts to the development of niches and diversity indices. The garden never sleeps, to speak. It is a living arena and the drama of life goes on and on.

When we look at a life, we look at it in physics and chemistry- the flow of energy through the food chain, food web and their heirarchic order, the food pyramid. The light energy of the sun is transformed into chemical energy in plants, and is passed on to various organisms, one after another through the links of a chain. The remaining energy is used by the decomposers that transform organic substances into inorganic forms for the use of the next generation organisms- and the cycle goes on and on. We can witness this phenomenon among the residents in the pond, and among insects, arachnids, birds, and reptiles that reside nearby.

The garden is a laboratory for sociobiology, in the words of the founder of this field, E.O. Wilson. Animal behavior is demonstrated both by instinct and condition learning, and, to an extent, incipient intelligence. The ingenious building of a spider’s web, the predatory, awes student’s techniques of the preying mantis and the green tree ant. But this study may go into the physiologic responses in plants - tropism or reactions to light, touch, and the other elements. Plants, to sociobiologists, are not insensitive and incapable of communicating with one another. As members of a community, they, too, respond, singly and collectively, through some kind of communication medium.

There are biological indicators of the state of the environment. The garden has a host of these indicators, such as lichens and fireflies, the presence of which attests to the fact that the environment is tolerably favorable to them in spite of air pollution, and that the garden has become their home. The garden itself is also a barometer of climatic adversity life El Niño. The flowering of the bamboo is an antecedent of its episode.

I believe that, in spite of the crowded environment of high rise buildings around the UST, the Botanical Garden is not without natural populations of species, such as butterflies. Having the kinds of plants they feed on and rear they young, the garden is their natural abode. The ponds are a sanctuary of dragonflies as well, and their waters teem with both phytoplankton and zooplankton, seen only under the microscope. These in turn key up the food web, linking one organism to another in an amazing network of interrelationship.

"As a gene bank, the garden is a depository of biological diversity, providing access to genetic studies, propagation and exchange with other institutions," says Dr. Anselmo S. Cabigan a well known biologist and ecologist. The UST Botanical Garden is being supervised by Dr. Romualdo M del Rosario.~

A beggar boy goes to school.

This painting reproduction was given to me by a Palestinian student of mine in the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas. He told me he carried it all along with his books until he finished his graduate studies.

"Thank you for everything, sir." He said brimming with smile. His handshake of goodbye was firm. Then he opened his briefcase. "I am giving you this simple souvenir. I hope you'll like it."

It is the most haunting painting I've ever seen. It is a contradiction of society - and to mankind.

How do you interpret the painting? Enter into the Comments of this Blog your answer. Or send by e-mail avrotor Our followers and readers, I'm sure, will be greatly delighted of your interpretation. You may use poetry, essay or any form. Thank you - AVR.

The way I interpret the painting is that everyone has a chance to experience the normal life of a person. Even though someone is unfortunate to life, he has the right to experience also the things that a normal boy can get. Poverty is never a hindrance to continue life and to improve ones life status. Even if the boy is a beggar, he has also dreams that he wants to achieve. It is heart melting what the painting shows. Some may discriminate these people but we must never underestimate the capabilities of each of us, because we will never can tell who can really be successful and find fulfillment and happiness in life.

Mary Beth C. Galleto, St Paul University QC

The painting portrays a child watching a group of children in the school while studying. I think the child is envious of the children who are studying because their parents can afford their education while in his case, he’s just standing outside the room and can’t do anything but only to stare at them. It’s a sad reality that many children nowadays can’t go to school because they can’t afford the tuition. One of the main reasons why this is happening is because of poverty. Yet we can overcome this problem by doing something for ourselves, we can go to a public school, study hard, aim for high grades, attain our goal to finish studies and to have a good job in the future.

Maveric Cabardo, SPUQC

It made me realized how lucky I am experiencing all the comfort in life. And for having the opportunity to study in a good school.

The boy is a representation of a person who has the complete determination in everything that he does, no matter what the hindrances are.

Chiara Alyssa Cochico, SPUQC

Light from the Old Arch 2, AVR

Friday, April 23, 2010

Light in the Forest

Abe V Rotor

Light in the Forest, mural showing details, acrylic by
Summer, 2010.

I'm lost, wandering in a forest ever since -
Could this be Paradise, the lost Paradise?
I never knew its edge, its height, its might,
I never knew myself, minuscule to its size,

Amidst a sea of green and towering giants,
Piercing the sky, shrouded by mist and rain;
I'm lost in their limbs veiled by moss and vine,
Cloaked by a mantle of forever green.

How long I've slept, no one will ever know;
As no one knows who my ancestor was,
Before waking up into a Homo sapiens. Lo!
By the forbidden Tree and its fruit. Alas!

And I, I have been a wanderer since then,
Driven out and away with guilt forever worn,
Away from prison, from the watchful Eye,
Rising to a beautiful Light every morn. ~

Light in the Woods, AVR 1995

NOTE: There is a similarity of Light in the Forest (2010) and Light in the Woods (above). A book of poems and photographs of the same title was written and presented to the Holy Father on his visit to the Philippines in the same year. (See Books of AV Rotor in this Blog).

Living with Nature 3, AVR

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Test on Plato’s Republic and Passion of Saints

Plato, the teacher (left), in the like of Leonardo
da Vinci,and his
greatest pupil, Aristotle, holding
his great book, The Ethics.

Ruins of Plato's Academy (387 BC to 521 AD).
The ACADEMOS flourished for over 900 years
was and still is the, the longest existing university
in the world. It was closed by Chirstian emperor
Justinian who claimed it was pagan.
(The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Abe V Rotor

1. Plato is the greatest student of Socrates so that philosophers would quip, Plato is Socrates, and Socrates is Plato.

2. Plato’s Republic is a “Utopia” which means a perfect society that does not actually exist.
3. Singapore is the closest society of the Republic.

4. Hitler’s Germany can be compared with Plato’s Republic.

5. Darwinism – survival of the fittest – is also applied in human society, but touches ethico-moral issues.

6. “Christianity is Plato for the people,” says German philosopher Nietzsche.
7. “Everything is just a footnote of Plato,” says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

8. Socrates – one of the most respected citizens of Athens was condemned to die by no less than the leaders of this greatest city state of the world at that time.

9. A candidate for sainthood is well studied by the Church for miracles for which he or she is attributed. One miracle is sufficient for canonization.

10. Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France was canonized 100 years after her burning at the stake.

11. Joan of Arc was condemned to die of witchcraft by one arm of the Church and canonized by the other arm, so to speak.

12. The choice for the Nobel Prize for peace was narrowed down between Pope John Paul II, and an Iranian woman lawyer Ebadi. Easily the Pope got the much coveted prize.

13. All saints really existed in flesh and lived with the people.

14. San Claus is a contemporary mythological character whose origin is said to be the North Pole.

15. The catacombs in Rome were hideouts of the early Christians. They were underground villages.

16. Kings never became saints.

17. Pagan literary mean people living on the countryside.

18. The canonization of Maximilian Kolby who offered to be executed in place of a fellow prisoner who pleaded for his life because he had a wife and children, marked the new concept of sainthood – that of charity.

19. We will never know who and how many saints there are in the world. Somewhere, sometime, someone is a saint as lonely and obscure as the unknown soldier.

20. Apparently, as portrayed on media, there were more people who mourned for Princess Diana than Mother Teresa who died and were buried almost at the same time.

21. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, when she died automatically became saint by virtue of having been long regarded as a living saint.

22. St. Paul witnessed the stoning to death of St. Stephen when he was already an apostle.

23. There are very few people who turn completely around from their wicked ways; one of them who became said was St. Thomas Moore.

24. Christ tells us, “Carry your cross,” which is the best way to imitate him.

25. The fastest growing religion today is Christianity.
Answers will be posted after two weeks.

Living with Nature 3, AVR

Agony OF the Garden

Agony OF the Garden
Abe V Rotor

A critique on St Paul and the Groaning of Creation by Sister Bernardita Dianzon
National Conference on Sustainable Productivity, St Paul University QC9

Death of a Forest, acrylic painting AVR 2000

You can hear the earth breath, old folks used to tell us kids. We believed in them. It was part of our belief and culture on the farm. In some unspoiled landscape. On a patch of Eden, in romantic parlance. Being keen and observant about nature’s ways is as natural as being a farmhand, taking the carabao to the pasture – and back after school before sunset.

Or flying kites at harvest time. We would stay late after the Angelus, keeping company with the harvesters building haystacks (mandala) or gleaning some panicles strewn on the field. Then we would go home keeping our cadence with the breathing earth. A skink dashes here, the bamboo grove creaks in the slightest breeze, a gecko lizard makes a sonorous call. The crickets are happiest in summer. The fowls roost on their favorite tree, synchronized by the drooping of Acacia leaves. Soon fireflies become visible. They light our path inside our pocket. It is picturesque of the Gleaners of Millet or Wheatfield of Van Gogh. The rustic paintings of rural life by our national artist, Fernando Amorsolo.

When we were kids the “sound of creation” was a beautiful one. It was a sound of sigh, of relief, of contentment. It goes with kind words, meekness, and joy. Sometimes it breaks into laughter and peals of thunder. After harvest the earth takes a break. The bounty we get becomes Santa Gracia of the family. Like the body, the field takes a rest we call fallowing. Energy is recharged at the end of a cycle in order to prepare for the next one.

Summer wears off easily. The rain comes. And we kids would run into the rain, sans fear, sans anything. It was pure joy. Soon the earth is green once more. And this is the way our world goes round and around, ad infinitum.

You can hear the earth under your feet. But it’s a different sound now. It is groaning. It is the sound of pain, of distress, of agony. It is a different scenario. It’s the opposite.

This is the scenario presented in Sister Bernardita Dianzon’s paper (The Groaning of Creation) and pictured in the CBCP’s report. It would be painful for one who had lived with the art of Amorsolo or the naturalism of Darwin to see eroded mountains, bald hills, silted waterways, and dried up river beds. And to live with polluted air, accumulating doses of pesticide, mutated pathogens, genetically engineered food we call Frankenfood. To live in the confines of a world of computers. And rigid institutions. Yet lose our sense of permanence. Where is home? What is the essence of who we are and why we are here?.

Who are we? The paper asks. Where is the humane in human, the kindness in humankind? Being in human being? Humanus in Humanity?

This is the groaning of creation, a sound that disturbs our sleep. That calls, Don’t go gentle into that good night, a poem by Dylan Thomas. Which takes us to the letter of Paul which in part says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” (Rom 8:22)

St Paul in stained glass, Fr James Reuter's Theater, SPUQC

Paul was the best authority in his time to raise such issue, having traveled far and wide on three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – practically the whole world then. He must have traced some routes of Alexander the Great in his conquest from Macedonia to India and back 500 years earlier. He knew well the Persian Empire – the biggest empire the world had seen, bigger than the Roman Empire in the height of its power. He must have known the uniqueness of different cultures – including the barbaric tribes - the Vikings, Ostrogoth, Visigoth, the Saxons, Angles, and even the dominance of the Khans of China and Mongolia. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of leaders like Xerxes, Darius, Hannibal.

And the declining power of Rome then. It was when the northern provinces including England were ceding from the centralized authority – All roads lead to Rome. Rome had grown too big, the Dinosaur Syndrome was creeping in. Paul knew when to strike with “a book and a sword.” The message is clear and firm: To spread Christianity and defend it. He was a general, and a general again in the name of Christianity.

Creation to Paul is a holistic one – the biological and physical world, the forest and valley, the rivers and the seas, the land on which humanity was born and being nurtured. The society man built and continues to build. The culture that shares his society. The commonalities and differences of people - their achievements, goals and aspirations. Paul was a realist, with supreme military background. Thus he was also a strategist, fearless, adventurous.

Yet the inner man – the Little Prince in him, to recall Saint-Exupery’s famous novel of the same title – is a gentle kind, hopeful and patient. Which makes him an paragon of change - persuasive, sincere, and selfless.

I can imagine Paul’s concept and description of creation. First he referred to “a creation associated with labor pain.” The giving forth of new life. The birth of a baby. The germination of a seed. The metamorphosis of a butterfly. The rise of a new island. The formation of a valley. The growth of a mountain. Of a new river or a delta.

The sun is born everyday. Buds are born in spring. The desert suddenly blooms after an unexpected rain. The fields ripens in summer. Even a volcano erupts and enriches the soil in its surroundings. And there are creatures born with some difficulty. But it is a groan of joy. It is a groan of self fulfillment and victory. It is a groan of happiness which at the end is shared by many.

But why did Paul express frustration in the same subject of creation?

Paul expressed frustration as a result of man’s disobedience. “Cursed in the ground because of you.” He said and pointed at man with a warning of Armageddon, “ … you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

But Paul also saw renewal in man’s sinful ways. He too, was once sinful. But on one dark night on the road to Damascus he changed, a 360-degree turn. His enemies became not only his friends – he became their protector. And helped preserve and nurture their new faith, increased their numbers even through extreme danger and sacrifice. He was leading them to a new Paradise. The Paradise of Salvation.

We have to understand that, on the viewpoint of both faith and history. The “loss of Paradise” comes in three phases in the short history of humankind. The first was when man left the confines of a lush greenery described as a rainforest where he had practically everything for his biological needs and comfort, but it was the dawning of his intellect. Scientists and historians compare the Africa before and the Africa of today – the shifting of that great forest cover to a grassland where game animals roamed, and finally becoming into a dry land – the great Sahara desert – shaping man as Homo sapiens and hunter-gatherer, a life he followed through many generations, and until now for some cultures. Until the second loss of that Paradise came once more.

Again the groaning of creation.

As man formed societies, so with different cultures shaped by each. Cultures united and cultures clashed because of the conflict of interests, of trade and commerce, of thoughts and ideas. Leading to deeper conflict, this times in politics and religion. This is the scenario in which Paul founded his mission. The renewal of a paradise of unity and harmony by embracing a common faith – Christianity. It is Paradise Regained later epitomized by John Milton - the same author of Paradise Lost which he wrote before he lost his eyesight.

Religious wars followed after Paul had done his mission. More people were killed in those religious wars between Christians and non-Christian than all the other wars of history combined. For more than 1000 years the world remained in a state of torpor. The Dark Ages or Middle Ages was a long period of constant fighting, the Roman Empire fell and dissolved into fiefs and small kingdoms fantasized in love stories, fairy tales and children’s books.

Again the groaning of creation.

Paul must have dreamt of the Renaissance though distant it would happen. And it did in the 15th century. The Renaissance was the crowing glory of the church. The Renaissance is the story of the Church. It was Paradise Regained, Part 2. West met East, but it was not on mutual terms. Europe invaded and conquered the East, the Orient. A new era was born – colonization. The ideology of conquest and colonization is clearly biased on the part of the invader and master. The conquered were made to appear as barbarians and were doomed unless they submit to a foreign master and a foreign god. Rizal’s books - Noli Me Tangere and Filibusterismo - clearly pictured the lives of Filipinos under Spain. Hawaii, a novel by James Micheners projects a worse scenario. The colonizers were self anointed masters of the world and of God.

For us in the Philippines as in most colonized countries, we remained subjects of Spain for 400 years. India was colonized by England, Indonesia by the Dutch, Indo-China by the French, and so on down the line. Practically all countries in Africa and South America. Asia and the Pacific became colonies and the natives were “living in hell,” as some historians recall, the slavery of mostly Negroes in the US, notwithstanding. It was Paradise Lost to these countries ruled by the so-called “civilized” masters.

Again the groaning of creation.

Colonialism ended towards the end of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century. A new Paradise was born once again – the Age of Nationalism. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – the trilogy of the French Revolution became the universal cry for Democracy now led by the United States of America. Peace was short-lived. Two world wars shook mankind in disbelief. And when the last major conflict ended a new order came out – the Cold War, the polarization of the whole world into two warring camps – democracy and socialism. If there is a Dark Age here is a Cold War. Though the latter lasted for 50 years, in both cases, the quality of life was drawn down to a level whereby we ask ourselves, What is rationality?

Again the groaning of Creation.

If rationality – the power of reason to know what is good and bad, and even know the best and the worst of situations – is the singular gift of God to man, and to no other else among the millions of living organisms on earth, how come man destroys what he builds? Destroys that very thing he calls beautiful? Destroys other living things, their habitats and the environment itself that he shares with?

Why should man wreck his only spaceship, the Planet Earth? And finally, why should man destroy himself, his race, his entire species? It is a shame to our Creator that we, humans are the only species that is destroying its own kind.

What is this rationality that scholars talk about? What is the meaning of faith? Prayer? Research? Teaching? Progress? Values? How can this thing rationality make us true guardians of God’s creation?

Creation groans. It protests. This time against man. Man is the enemy of the earth.

I presume that this is the “restlessness” of creation the paper discussed, and it could be that restlessness Paul described as the sin-story of Genesis 3. It is restlessness in man in seeking more and more of what he wishes to have – his want over his need. The quest for the highest building, the fastest car, the state-of- the art of entertainment and pleasure and comfort. Quest for a Utopia built from the wealth of the earth. And the restlessness to have more of these even at the expense of others. And at the expense of Mother Earth.

All in the name of civilization.

“The ultimate test of any civilization
Is not in its inventions and deeds;
But the endurance of Mother Nature
In keeping up with man’s endless needs.”
AVR, Light in the Woods.

But what is civilization? Can’t civilization hear and heed the groaning of creation?

It is civilization that wiped out the American Indian from the Great Plains. It is civilization that plundered the Aztecs and Mayas Empires. It is civilization that brought the Spanish Armada’s to its final defeat. It was civilization that killed 6 million Jews during the second world war. It was civilization that built the atomic bomb – and dropped it in two cities to defeat a defeated enemy. It is civilization that made a clone animal, Dolly the Sheep. It is civilization that threatens the whale and the Philippine Eagle. It is civilization that is causing global warming and the many consequences destroying lives and properties. It is civilization that is causing today’s fuel crisis and food shortage. Drastic inflation and loss of currency value, the recession of America and consequently the world, ad infinitum.

All these constitute the groaning of creation. Creation gone wild and free. Creation without boundary. Creation on a global scale.

Man needs a model. Man needs conversion.

Paul is an embodiment of great men. We find in him the influence of Aristotle, the naturalist-philosopher-teacher, one of the greatest teachers of the world – the teacher of Alexander the Great; Plato of his concept of a Utopian Republic, the asceticism of Stephen the first Christian saint he witnessed while being stoned to death.

A touch of Paul is in Gandhi philosophy of attaining peace through non-violence, in Mother Teresa’s passion to help the poorest among the poor, in Lincoln’s heroic struggle in abolishing slavery, in Maximillan Kolby’s sacrifice by exchanging place with a doomed fellow prisoner, a father of young children, in a Nazi concentration camp.

Paul must have inspired Kenya’s Wangari in planting 40 million trees to reforest denuded and eroded watershed, and the advocacy of Fr Nery Satur who was killed while protecting the forests of Bukidnon.

There is Paul in the online lessons in ecology, Paul in the syllabus in Philosophy of Man, in the books and manuals about caring for the sick. Other than the pages of bible, more than a half of which he wrote or caused to be written, Paul is among the most read saints of the church of all times, indeed truly a doctor and a general of the faith. Paul is in the temple of worship, Christian or non-Christian. Paul is in every Paulinian sister or teacher and student.

Paul set a new horizon of sainthood, he an apostle – in fact, the greatest of them all, yet he was not one of the original apostles – because he never saw Christ, never walked with Him, never talked to Him. Yet Christ was his way, his constant companion. Christ was always in his heart and mind and spirit – and in fact, he gave himself and his life to Him.

Which challenges the church and us today. Around 10,000 saints - 30,000 to 50,000 including the lesser saints and the blessed ones - are venerated as soldiers of Christ and keepers of the faith. The concept of sainthood took a new turn with the case of Kolby - that of sainthood for charity. Along this line are candidates like Mother Teresa.

But we have yet to have a saint, after St Francis of Assisi, for Nature the expression of God on earth, the environment. Indeed there are heroes for Mother Earth featured by Time and cited by governments, private organizations and civil society. Among them, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, EC Schumacher, including present leaders like Al Gore and Michael Gorbachev, among dozens more.

But looking back to Paul, the investiture for sainthood is only by Heaven and it is for the glory of God. If that glory is the preservation of His creation, the protection of His face on earth, if that glory means relief from groaning arising from pain, loneliness, hunger, sickness, thirst, imprisonment, then that person who, like Paul, deserves the honor. He could be the first saint for the cause of the environment.

The earth actual breathes, the old folks used to tell us kids. I still believe it.~

Monday, April 19, 2010

Resurrection and Regeneration

Field cricket (Acheta bimaculata) can regenerate
a lost leg or two, including the large hind legs.

The moss dies in summer and resurrects in the next rainy season.

Abe V Rotor

Old folks tell us of the magic of lizards growing new tails, crabs regaining lost claws, starfish arising from body pieces. How can we explain the mystery behind these stories?

The biological phenomenon behind these stories is called regeneration.

The male deer grows a new set of anthers, and lose them after the mating season. Sea squirts and hydras are produced from tiny buds, so with yeast forming buds. This is the same way plants grow from cuttings, seaweeds grow from fragments, and algae from filaments. New worms may regenerate from just pieces of the body, and some fish can sprout new fins to replace the ones that have been bitten off.

Experiments demonstrated that the forelimb of a salamander severed midway between the elbow and the wrist, can actually grow into a new one exactly the same as the lost parts. The stump re-forms the missing forelimb, wrist, and digits within a few months.

In biology this is called redifferentiation, which means that the new tissues are capable of reproducing the actual structure and attendant function of the original tissues.

Studies on children who lose fingertips in accidents can regrow the tip of the digit provided their wounds are not sealed up with flaps of skin. They normally won't have a finger print, and if there is any piece of the finger nail left it will grow back as well, usually in a square shape rather than round.

Curious the kid I was, I examined a twitching piece of tail, without any trace of its owner. I was puzzled at what I saw. My father explained how the lizard, a skink or bubuli (alibut' Ilk), escaped its would-be predator by leaving its tail twitching to attract its enemy, while its tailless body stealthily went into hiding.

“It will grow a new tail,” father assured me. I have also witnessed tailless house lizards (butiki) growing back their tails at various stages, feeding on insects around a ceiling lamp. During the regeneration period these house lizards were not as agile as those with normal tails were, which led me to realize the importance of the tail.

Regeneration is a survival mechanism of many organisms. Even if you have successfully subdued a live crab you might end up holding only its pincers while the canny creature has gone back into the water. This is true also to grasshoppers; they escape by pulling away from their captors, leaving their large trapped hind legs behind. But soon, like their crustacean relatives, new appendages will start growing to replace the lost ones.

Another kind of regeneration is compensatory hypertrophy, a kind of temporary growth response that occurs in such organs as the liver and kidney when they are damaged. If a surgeon removes up to 70 percent of a diseased liver, the remaining liver tissues undergo rapid mitosis (multiplication of cells) until almost the original liver mass is restored. Similarly, if one kidney is removed, the other enlarges greatly to compensate for its lost partner.

Regeneration of the kidney is in the nephron, which is composed of the glomerulus, tubules, the collecting duct and peritubular capillaries. The regenerative capacity of the mammalian kidney however, is limited as compared to that of lower vertebrates.

How about the human skeleton? The ribs can regenerate with the periosteum, the membrane that surrounds the rib, is left intact. A research was conducted on rib material being used for skull reconstruction. In that particular operation, all 12 patients had complete regeneration of the resected rib. I would not however, relate this feat to Genesis on the theory of creation.

Organ transplantation in higher animals has thus succeeded extensively and is now a regular part in medical practice. Resurrecting the dead however, remains a mystery. Stories in the bible of the raising of Lazarus and the dead little girl remain a matter of faith.

Yet in our postmodern times, a hundred or so ultra rich people lie in cryonics tanks awaiting the time when science shall then have the power to resurrect them. Then there is a short cut to resurrection, so the movie Jurassic Park, make people believe - the reconstruction of the total organism from a piece of its DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid).

Why such wide and varied aims of man? Not because of man's unending desire for wealth and power, but the belief that the living world has common answer to present day inquiries. For example, is vegetative reproduction limited to plants and protists, why not to mammals? Why are lichens older than most organisms, outliving them by years, if not centuries? Why is a single tissue capable of complete growth to form an entire organism, and that, from this organism another generation arises? If such is the case, then there is no real death of that organism after all. For is it not that life is a continuing process; the DNA is but a continuous stream from one generation to the next, ever young and vibrant, spreading into numbers we call population, and types we call diversity?

Then, if this is so, there is but a shade that separates regeneration and resurrection - or whatever terms we describe the continuity of life on earth.~

Living with Folk Wisdom, AVR-UST; other references from the Internet.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Part 2 - Self-Administered Test on Folk Wisdom , True or False, 70 items

Dr. Abe V. Rotor and Ms. Melly Tenorio
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid, DZRB 738 AM KHz

8 to 9, Evening Class
Monday to Friday

Kugtong - giant lapu-lapu

1. Here is a riddle from the old folks – what is the fiercest animal – lion? F

2. It needs special equipment to make virgin coconut oil; you can’t make it at home. F Old folks tells us how to make one.

3. Folk measurements are not accurate. T

4. You can’t build an aquarium without electricity. F

5. If there is a national fruit-vegetable, it is the upo – because it is used to make helmet like the one used by Bonifacio. T

6. It is an Ilocano term - tempering – paslep. It is a process of making fine bolos and knives. T

7. Molave is the hardest wood. F Kamagong

8. Mound-building termites dig out clay and bring it to the surface.T

9. Living things resurrect from the dead – is there a proof? T there are.

10. Nature medicine – can animals really heal themselves? T they do.

11. Refined salt is made the old way, by slow fire. T

12. Male fowls are Nature’s alarm clock. F only roosters

13. Scarecrow is effective in warding off birds. F.

14. The distance one has walked is determined by his pace factor. T

15. The old kiskisan is now gone, replaced by modern mills. F

16. There is biological basis for a child to carry his father’s name, not his mother’s. T, the Y chromosome.

17. A black butterfly that enters the house tells a relative is going to die. F

18. All animals are uneasy before an impending earthquake. F

19. Ants on the move signal the coming of a drought. F, rain

20. Cicada sings for rain. F, mate

21. Dogs howl in the night at unseen spirits. F

22. Emergence of the May or June beetle ushers the start of Amihan season. F

23. “Flowers” on fingernails means a relative is going to die. F

24. Flying kites while rice plants are in bloom causes poor harvest. F

25. Fruit-laden kapok tree predicts poor rice harvest. T

Pod-laden kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) predicts coming
of extreme drought, such as El Niño phenomenen, QC

26. Hovering dragonflies tell of a coming rain. T

27. Mosquitoes – male and female - bite more aggressively before rain. F

28. Red and gray sunset is sign it’s going to rain – or a storm is coming. T

29. Ring (halo) around the moon means a storm is coming. T

30. Someone dies if the fire tree is in full bloom. F

31. Tell your dreams so they will not happen, so many believe and practice. T.

32. The kingfisher is an emissary of death. F

33. Underground water can be sourced through divination. T

34. When earthworms crawl out of their burrows, a flood is coming. T

35. When the leaves of acacia starts to fold it’s time to wake up. You’ll be late for work. F

36. When you see birds in the open sea, there must be land nearby. T

37. Angalo is the legendary friendly giant among Filipinos. F, Ilocanos

38. Avoid laughing when planting kamote otherwise the roots will become liplike. F

39. Bathing the cat will cause rain. F

40. Bats swoop on unwary people. F

41. Bite your finger after you have pointed at somebody, so that the blame will not boomerang. T (not literally)

42. Black ants on lansones means the fruit is sweet. F

43. Bringing salt under a sour fruit-bearing tree will cause the fruits to fall. F

44. One can read how nature intended plants to be used by examining their resemblances and other physical characteristics. F

45. Cassava grown from inverted cutting is poisonous. F

46. Cat grooming at the doorway tells of visitors coming. F

47. Cockroaches eat on anything - almost. T

48. Conceiving mother who gets near a fruiting tree causes its fruits to fall prematurely. F

49. Eating shark influences human character with the animal’s behavior. F

50. Food offering on special occasions is homage to the spirits, a practice in the rural areas. T.

51. Fruit trees watered with sugar solution bear sweet fruits. F

52. Garlic drives the aswang away. F

53. Hanging bottles on the trellis of gourd plants induces fruiting. F

54. Harelip or cleft lip is the result of an accident when the baby was still in the womb. F

55. If a Fortune plant received as a gift bears flowers, it is a sign of good luck. T/F

56. Inadvertently wearing reverse clothes leads one to marry a widow or an old maid. F

57. It’s customary to first spill a little of your wine in deference to the spirits. T

58. It’s lucky to find a four-leaf clover. F unless you find one.

59. Kugtong or giant lapulapu – really exist. T

60. Mother who eats twin bananas will bear twin children. F

61. Mothers place the extracted tooth of their children under the pillow or mat so that the good tooth fairy will come and replace it. F

62. gNakakapagpagaling ang laway sa nauso (A little saliva relives someone who was chanced upon by the unseen.) F

63. Old folk’s advice: Don’t forget to spit on the spot where you answered the call of nature. F

64. One who is fond of rice crust (tutong) is lazy. F

65. Papaya planted in front of a house brings bad luck. F

66. People with large ears live long. F

67. Place the first fruits harvested from a plant in a large container and pretend to carry them as if they were very heavy so that the plant will be heavy with fruits. F

68. When planting a tree seedling, avoid looking up so that the plant will not grow very tall. Stoop when planting coconut so it bears nuts early. F

69. Chicken soup is best for convalescent. T

70. Rice is the first thing to carry with when moving to a new house. T

Old folks know a storm is coming by the extreme redness of sunset.
Banaoang Pass, Santa, Ilocos Sur. Photo by Marlo R Rotor 2009

Living with Folk Wisdom, AVR-UST 2009