WHY DO WE ASSUME THAT “God” is the one who wants or needs worship?
IT FEELS GOOD to write again. It has been just over six years since I last added to this blog (which once boasted a...
WHY DO WE ASSUME THAT “God” is the one who wants or needs worship?
“There’s so many choices here, a man could half-starve before picking breakfast.”
– Ol’ Thinkypants
THAT MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY WILL NOT long endure whose members celebrate every festival but their own(1). C’mon people — whatever your tradition is, it got Grandma and Grandpa over here, fed them through wars and afflictions, and kept them and your folks together long enough to produce you. Don’t you want to know their secret? So dust off the shelf, pick up whatever’s yours and have at. It’s yours by right of succession through love, and It only lives in that way when someone qualified is at the controls.
So don’t dabble — delve! and remember what Ol’ Thinkypants says: “Drink deep, or don’t even spit.”
(1) Written after reading one more Sunday-papers account of a ritual-appropriating church and reflecting rather sourly on those Jews who embrace something else due to ignorance of their own. (Informed choice I got no problem with.)
IS IT ONLY OR CHIEFLY the minorities who long for universal brotherhood?
WITHOUT GRATITUDE, NONE OF THIS would matter.
DELIGHTEDMAN! HIS SUPERPOWERS ARE HIS 100% Infectious Enthusiasm! the Smile of Impenetrability! and the deadly Triple Exclamation Point!!!
1. DESPITE THAT THIS BLOG’S SUBTITLE is “A Journalistic Exploration of Experiential Holiness and Snack Bar,” there seems to me to be little direct dealing with the “experiential holiness” end of things: why any 2010 Renaissance Man would fall in love with a 3,000-year-old tradition, say, and non-ironically to boot.
2. Partly, that lack is due to a recent focus on my writing. But mostly it’s that, in order to discuss “religion” (which term I prefer to “spirituality,” as implying a more disciplined approach), it’s necessary — and only possible — to discuss my experience of it. And my experience is both weird and conventional — and I suspect it’s that way for everybody.
3. On the weird side are experiences which I would call “ecstatic visions” due to their immediacy and primarily visual character. I have had several of these, which always leave me feeling both humble (as in small) and “included” (as if I’m in on some cosmic joke). Those who know, know (including how difficult it is to relate something like, oh, praying really hard and feeling your body dissolve into happy twinkling lights); those who don’t, should know that while I have no firm idea or dogma about what these events “really are” I am reporting them as accurately as I can. (Although I favor the thought that it’s “simply” my brain chatting with its collective unconscious.) Stay tuned for updates.
4. On the conventional side are the love of a familiar liturgy and narrative, even of narrative structure and theme. (I’ve written of this elsewhere too, largely within a Jewish context but also to understand the four ways of encountering God.) This includes the unspeakable joy of praying by myself in a room full of people; the taste of bread and wine (or grape juice) afterward; the glow of familiar faces; leading services for people I love; being led in services by same; the look of the letters; the smell of a room full of prayers and old books. CS Lewis is said to have replied, when asked why he was a devout Christian, “Had I been born in India, I would be a devout Hindu.” (To which I say, “Me too.”)
5. Another way to put it: “It ain’t the finger — it’s where it POINTS!” What gets left out of the Great Culture Clash Debate is that many people aren’t clashing at all — they’re integrating, using their religious or spiritual practice to help themselves become more compassionate, more loving, and (especially Talmudists and Sufis) more wise. We cannot afford to let those louder and nastier define what it means to live religiously.
1. Make ‘em laugh with, but not at, you and your topic. But make ‘em laugh first.
2. Remember that you’re a student too, no more learned (and sometimes embarrassingly less) than those listening to you. Your task is to reveal rather than entertain, to share rather than “teach.”
3. Be honest. It shows.
4. Know what you’re talking about, but don’t be afraid of facing questions which haven’t occurred to you. They are inevitable, and can be miraculous.
5. Care about the people you’re talking to(1). Not as “subjects of ‘God’” (or “dues-paying members” or, especially, “the audience”) but as people — maybe scared or sad or in pain, looking for comfort and inspiration and sometimes a reason to get out of bed. So give that!
(1) This is in some ways the most important of these principles. If your care is elsewhere than the people you serve, you’ll only disservice everyone.
AT LEAST, THAT’S MY AIM, and has been for some time, only I didn’t know it then.
Hear: I don’t know how any/everyone else works It, but I think It is universal, appearing to some as “God,” others as The Muse, yet others Science, still others as some unnamed (nor needing to be named) unifying perspective.
But all these other views still seem, in these eyes, to concern what I call “God.” (That’s either a great oversimplification on my part or something shrewd and cogent. For practical reasons, let’s say the latter.) It’s hard talking about It for a couple of reasons — not least because It is impossible to describe — and the language with which we attempt to do so only makes some people touchy (i.e., “Don’t shove that anthropocentric patriarchal authoritarianism at me, you sexist. I worship only the Goddess”). As one more interested in colloquy than controversy, however, I want to touch the essence of the matter without a lot of side-explanations and other verborrheic runnings-about. (I’m a busy man, after all, and so are you.)
Thus, with a throw of hands in the air, we at Metaphorager.Net suggest “The Mystery.” That seems accurate, since a Mystery (philosophically speaking) is something which can only be understood through experience, and one thing we can say about It is that each one of us has a different (if overlapping) experience. An example: No one quite knows what I mean when I say “God,” or “love,” or “chocolate,” since I specifically associate these words with what I have invested in them through lifelong acquaintance. But enough of It overlaps to where I can order “chocolate” and expect the waiter not serve me meatballs. Which is good enough — I seem to be less concerned with Truth than with Usefulness, anyway — but there are certain particulars which do not overlap, and these are the points which either spice the conversation or begin wars.
To avoid those exchanges, we must speak generally. And “The Mystery” is about as general as I can get and still sound like I’m talking about something of interest to those interested in Such Things, whereas “God” just sounds reactionary to those who pride themselves on their modernity. (And we can’t have that.)
So there it is. Of course, as a Hebrew-school teacher, I’ll still have to say “God,” but my students will at least have the ambiguity “built in.” They won’t have to relearn its essentiality like I did, and can better perhaps listen to what people are actually saying — instead of confirming their own prejudices.
TODAY’S POST COMES FROM GUEST-BLOGGER Ann Clark and concerns our weekly living-room Torah study. We begin the reading cycle anew tomorrow (technically, yesterday and today) — but do we ever really begin, or end, anything?
France Street Torah Study
Neal and Ann’s House – scoop at sonic dot net for directions
Saturday, October 2, 2010 – 10 am to noon
Torah Portion: Bereshit [Genesis 1:1 through 6:8]
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 – 43:11 [Ashkenazim]
I love the endless-loop nature of the Five Books of Moses — every completion is but a beginning, because there is no “end” to Torah. This is so perfectly visualized on Simchat Torah when we unroll the scroll and stand with Genesis touching Deuteronomy…such powerful imagery.
And, yet, as Northern Californians well-versed in psycho-speak, some of us (okay, me), are fond of the concept of “closure,” wrapping things up, placing the final period, writing the journalist’s “30.” We’re a culture of final examinations, final grades, last acts, curtain calls, nightcaps, and closing times (well, except for Safeway). And we’ve brought that notion into some of our most painful experiences — separation, divorce, the end of friendships, and death. Some of us have been taught that we must process these experiences to “closure” — implying that there will come a time when we have dealt with them so effectively that we won’t need to deal with them anymore. However, anyone who has suffered a painful loss (which is to say, all of us) knows that it doesn’t quite work that way — it’s not that linear.
Torah, the wisest psychologist of all, understands and in fact models the circular nature of experience.
David Mamet, writing in “Five Cities of Refuge,” says that “Closure is a concept foreign to Jewish tradition. It is an overwhelmingly secular, modern and arrogant idea — that one, by an act of will, manipulation, or aggression can ‘complete’ a disturbing experience [and declare] triumph over fate, chance, anger, grief, or injustice.” Mamet goes on to say that “the struggle to deal with an unjust, confusing, incomprehensible world does not impede our life, it IS our life.”
Finally, he writes: “Bereshit, the very beginning of Torah, counsels that there is and will be no completion, there is no ‘closure,’ and that this lack is not to be decried but, in fact, celebrated.”
I hope you can join us here at Beit Attinson on Saturday to celebrate the ongoing nature of, well, everything. Starting with Genesis 1:1.
The story continues.
Ann Clark Attinson
IT HAS COME TO THE attention of Metaphorager.Net that certain hatebrained wink-and-gigglers are selectively quoting vv. 8-9 of Psalm 109 to express their disdain for the President With The Suspicious Middle Name (simply paraphrased, they’re calling for his death). While I’m not one to upset the otherwise noble Lower North American art of president-disdaining, I really hate to see some of my favorite books hijacked by idiots. So it appeals to the Cosmic Jokester in me to discover that Psalm 109′s second and third verses say this (in the Artscroll translation):
2. For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful have opened against me, they have spoken to me the language of falsehood,
3. And with words of hatred they have encircled me, and attacked me without cause.
(“God?” Please. Save us from those who think they know You. The rest of us are tiring of the irony.)
CHIEF AMONG MY DEEPEST DELIGHTS and terrors is teaching young Jewish people about their heritage.
It’s a delight because I’m a born teacher, meaning that I love to learn things and share what I’ve learned (usually learning more in the process). I also love and grok young folk, especially in the 4th to 6th grade range, since they are old enough to begin questioning things, sharp enough to spot BS and still imbued with the essential sense of wonder.
It’s a terror because they pay attention to, pick up on, remember and react to the slightest word — and because much of what they carry with them about Judaism will be because I handed it to them. It’s a similar terror to the reporter’s eternal “Did I get it right?” insecurity without which none can refine their art, but hundredfolded. Sometimes I feel like the captain of a shipful of precious eggs, which I suppose I am.
This is my tenth year teaching, and my first new class in some time (my immediately previous students were with me for three years). The reason I began teaching in the first place was because my own Hebrew school experience was so stultifyingly hideous that I had to leave Judaism for 23 years before I could learn to appreciate it as one of many complex, deep and mysterious expressions of what some call “God” — one which is mine through inheritance and intent, inextricably intertwined with my world- and self-understanding. My teachers taught me not to ask questions (despite that asking questions is the fundament of both Judaism and childhood in general), and I want “my kids” to know that not only are there no stupid questions, there’s nothing in the world that can’t be — shouldn’t be — questioned.
Including, and especially, the teacher.
JUST HAPPENED ACROSS THE FOLLOWING in Robert Anton Wilson‘s Cosmic Trigger III, and as it’s appropriate for Yom Kippur (beginning Friday night) here ’tis:
The Cosmic Shmuck Law, as stated in several of my books, holds that if you occasionally notice that you have said something or done something that qualifies as Cosmic Shmuckery, you might become, in time, less of a Cosmic Shmuck; but if you never notice any Cosmic Shmuckery in your own thinking/doing, you will become more and more of a Cosmic Shmuck every year.
This makes sense to me, and I especially like that RAW measures in years, likely because of the whole Yom Kippur thing which, just between you and me, I’m having some difficulty with this year. In short: We are supposed to seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have done each other. But from this perspective, they seem a bit bigger and scarier than I am.
Dealing with quasidisability and its related and interwoven consequents does not make me easy to live with — it makes me impatient, short-tempered, cranky, sad and occasionally sullen, none of which are easy either for Ann or me (or for every union’s invisible third partner, The Marriage), especially as I’m someone who takes up a lot of psychic space in any given room). I sincerely don’t know how to write about this pain in a way that doesn’t sound self-pitying to me; in any case, I’m saying this so I can tell you the next thing.
Because of all this, this sluggish grey heavy tentacled ick, I find myself sincerely seeking forgiveness from … pretty much everyone I know for the unreturned phone calls, emails, visits, invitations and general good will y’all have been beaming at me. (You know who you are.) There’s a weird despair-into-shame spiral: I mean to do something, then feel bad about not having done it, then paralyzed by embarrassment, et al, ad nausea, ad insanitum. And then it’s too hard to do anything but sigh.
It may be a long way back to the man I want to be; I have not been a good friend this past year, and in some cases have even been a bad one. It is not something I intended, but it happened and I want to fix it. And so I nakedly ask, and hope to thank you for, your forgiveness.
You know who you are.
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