We are in Astana, Kazakhstan, visiting a private class of students learning English. “How many speak Russian at home?” I ask. Only one. The rest speak Kazakh, mainly. There seems to be a tendency for Kazakh people to speak other languages and to want to learn other languages.
We get on the night train and in the morning we are in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The next day we walk around.
Almaty is the financial capital of Kazahstan, the heart of its business life.
We are going to Zenkov Cathedral, the second largest wooden cathedral in the world — built without a single metal nail.
The cathedral is in the heart of a large, beautiful park — with pony rides and Soviet monuments.
This cathedral withstood a major earthquake — seemingly a miracle. The largest wooden cathedral is on a Russian island, I think — but my search on the Internet reveals all manner of large wooden structures.
I look at the birds in front of the cathedral.
Children play with the birds.
The Russian Orthodox Church is similar to other Orthdox churches — and we will see features showing that people everywhere are similar regarding religiosity and child rearing — at least in some ways.
Inside, the altars are magnificent. A cleaning lady stops to talk with a child in a pew close to us and shows the child how to cross herself.
I video the icons when she returns to her task of vacuuming the floor.
Crossing yourself is important — as is lighting candles.
Some people talk — others pray — some cross themselves and light candles.
We watch. There are probably rules designed to stop me — but I am a special category of person, the one who brings these images to you.
There are incredible murals — one of Jesus.
An image of hell.
Behind the church, a family is having their new car blessed.
I bring you that blessing.
A guy told us on our way to see the cathedral that we should also see the monuments to the Soviet army. He said the Russians in Kazakhstan liked living there — Russians and Kazakhs get along very well, he said. The monuments honor the 28 local guardsmen who died defending Russia against the Nazis. I did not ask for an explanation at the time but I talked to Karen about this. I know about fighting for one’s country because I have experience doing it — the bullshit is too deep for words.
We see an “eternal flame” — honoring those in the Soviet Army who gave up their lives in World War II. There is also a monument honoring those who died in The Russian Revolution. I guess the main theme is Russian heritage — Russian religion and Russian blood.
We look at “heroic art” — from the Soviet era.
Parents take a photo of their child beside the eternal flame.
Karen held a very basic conversation with our cab driver on the way home. He expressed his love for Putin and his opposition to Obama. Putin – good. Obama- bad. Bush – not good or bad. Clinton – good. Hillary Clinton – bad. So there you have it. A survey with a population of one. Everyone has an opinion.
People love their children and are proud of their heritage. It isn’t a rational process. We want God on our side and expect response to our appeals.
War generates monuments. They rarely build monuments to those who make peace — but there are icons inside the church for saints. There are also images of hell. People cross themselves, lights candles, kiss the icons.
Here is a final photograph of Zenkov Cathedral.
Traveling is often hard. Karen is still recovering from her bruised shoulder.
What we are doing has a magical quality — although Karen does not see it that way. She is tired of the pain.
What is your relationship to the unsolvable problems, frustration, tedium, loneliness, anger, bullshit, pain?
Magic comes from connecting finite to infinite and then stepping aside.
I, also, seek a cosmic edge — a magical process that will reach into your heart and move you to look within yourself so that you will have an advantage in the game of life. I have visited the relics of each Christan apostle and asked for this. I have walked in the footsteps of Jesus, requesting this. Now, Karen and I will enter China and visit the most sacred places, making this same request. We will not be denied.