Posts Tagged ‘ There’s a God in My Soup ’

Pithyism #11/25/10

2010.11.25
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WITHOUT GRATITUDE, NONE OF THIS would matter.

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5 Thoughts: The Whole God Catalogue

2010.11.14
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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.

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Reb Drunkard’s Wisdom

2010.11.09
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THE MAN WITH THE UNWASHED face was dressed in baggy street-person clothes which seemed to cushion the cold concrete beneath him.

He was laying in front of the Carl’s Jr. restaurant in San Francisco’s Justin Hermann Plaza one cool night in 1986, perhaps one of a series of nights and days spent drifting through passersby from liquor store to curb.

He wasn’t moving, at first. Then he lifted his head and looked around in bemusement, his eyes sliding over the passing faces like a mariner seeking harbor.

Finally, he roused himself, put his hands and elbows on the sidewalk, but treacherous liquor! the thief of agility robbed him of his rising and he slowly toppled to his left side.

One arm outflung, the effort began again. He rolled to a sitting position, tried to use the momentum to rise, but alas, the meat was unsuited to the motion and the seeker lay anew upon his right.

But human heart is not so easily cowed! Once again the brow furrows with effort. Neither Sisyphus rolling his boulder nor Montana his yardage were possessed of more goal-reaching will. And yet, that fate which watches babes and drunkards was not impressed enough to grant the pilgrim’s boon; and so he sank a third time to the all-embracing concrete, stupefaction and wonder writ in his face’s every line.

It was my wont in those days to wander downtown, dictating random poems into a pocket tape recorder. From my perch by the BART stairs I wondered if I should help. One passerby thought the same thing and stopped, hands on knees, to offer assistance or at least encouragement.

But the man was fumbling in his jacket pocket, and he waved on his would-be savior with a laugh that carried across the plaza. A moment later he rolled on his right side, lit a cigarette, and prepared to wait it out.

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Pithyism #144

2010.10.18
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EVERY TYRANNY IS DESIGNED TO separate us from who we really are — and thus from each other.

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Reb Cat’s Yoga

2010.10.17
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THE STORY GOES THAT YOGA was first disclosed to an Indian prince by a cat who consented to teach the prince the secrets of feline flexibility. Whether or not that’s true, the cat who lives with Ann & I repeatedly teaches the following tranquility-yoga. The position is called “Sleeping Hand Cat,” and it goes like this:

1. “Let C = a comforting hand-shaped anthropomorphism” — i.e., of God, or Jesus, or Buddha, or your mom or dad, or whatever best evokes your own most watchful-and-protective self.* The literality of this visioning is not as important as the feeling.

2. Lay on your left side in the most comfortable manner with a firm but soft pillow under your head. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing until you’re in a relaxed state of awareness.

3. Imagine/visualize C as the pillow beneath your head. Really feel your head cradled and protected, as though nothing can get past your protector to harm you.

4. Continue until sleep overtaketh and give way to pleasant dreams, or until you want to get up. (But why would you want to?)

_____
* Atheist fanboys may find benefit with Aragorn or Eowen. (But not from their movie versions.)

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I’m Not Going To Say “God” Anymore

2010.10.05
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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.

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Torah Study Anew Abu!

2010.10.01
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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

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Biblical Note: No Idiots Need Apply

2010.09.27
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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.)

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First Day Of School, Again

2010.09.24
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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.

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The Shape Of Time

2010.09.20
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WHEN I WAS YOUNGER THAN I am now, I used to think Time was arranged in neat little blocks as on the calendar. The “bottom of the month” felt like the bottom of the month, and I delighted in each month’s miraculous invert midnight flip; individual weeks swayed as a rope bridge over sequential chasms whose walls were the weekends.

A ghost of that image still brushes my mind whenever I think about calendars, specifically my “place” “on” them. But Time no longer seems to come in boxes; instead it flows away from everything I see: as though everything I see is but one end of a string stretching back to that thing’s inception, visible not through eyes which measure time by little circles but which see its unfolding procession as becoming instead of being; as the concretion of thought into form; as an obscuring mass leaving all-that-is in its wake; as potential congealing into persistence; as a big wall across the half of the universe that doesn’t exist yet; as a massive bubble floating from generational mind to generational mind in one slow ecstatic unmovable direction; as a function of space; as a unit of poetry; as Void dustily manifest in the five dimensions of daily life: length, width, height, duration, and comfort.

The shape of Time is the shape of the mind which perceives it. Why else would it fit so seamlessly?

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Weekend Holydays

2010.09.10
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Apples and honey
yesterday. Tonight, candles.
This Jew’s dance card’s full.

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On The Road To Karlin

2010.09.05
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THIS TALE COMES FROM LOUIS Newman’s 1963 “Hasidic Anthology,” a thick collection of stories, teachings and parables of the Hasidim, which is Hebrew for “pietist” but in this context refers to the 18th century Jewish ecstatics whose infectious enthusiasm rang through Eastern Europe to echo today; for example, in the following story: where a Hasid, or seeker-after-God, encounters a Rav, or rabbinic judge, on the way to finding the True Rabbi, or teacher, who in this particular case and for this particular seeker resided in the Belarusian town of Karlin. May we all find the True Rabbi, wherever we look.

A Hasid was on his way to visit the Karliner Rabbi. A Rav met him, and said: “Cannot you find a Rabbi nearer than Karlin?”

“No, I cannot,” answered the Hasid. “I read the thoughts of all the Rabbis, and I find them to be spurious.”

“If you read thoughts,” said the Rav, “then tell me what I am thinking now.”

“You are thinking of God,” answered the Hasid.

“No, your guess is incorrect; I am not thinking of God.”

“There you have it,” remarked the Hasid. “You yourself have stated the reason why I must go to Karlin.”

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