19 May 2010

Two Who Light the Way

I am exhausted from talking to people about God.  I am constantly trying to convey how God is so immanent right in front of us, even within us, in our thoughts and our actions.  God fills our entire outer and inner worlds, our deepest recesses and all our life experiences.
But all people see is the earthly world, and they bury their heads in it with their entire beings.  If only they would listen to my cries, "Follow the voice of God in all your physical and spiritual actions--your entire life is in His presence."  But they have blinded themselves with their physical perceptions, and their hearts sense nothing beyond their physical senses.
My throat is hoarse.  Fresh ideas about how to convey these truths are not forthcoming.  The sharp insights I've had in the past are dimming--I feel about to fall into depression, God help me.
When I had left the Friday night Shabbat table I gave up--no one had been listening anyway.  So I began to talk to the universe.  I opened my window and I saw an entire world just waiting for someone to acknowledge its beauty.  I was then about to recite the bedtime Shma, so I spoke to the world and cried out to it, "Shma Yisrael...God is one!"
The entire Creation seemed to be taking in each holy word and thought as I expressed it.  I became greatly encouraged and all my insights and feelings returned to me.
Now, whether by myself or with people, whether or not anyone is listening, I speak instead to the world, to God's world, rather than to people.
And when the world itself will reveal its holiness, perhaps then also its inhabitants will become hallowed with it.  Then, from the far corners of the earth, songs to God will they all be singing.
This extraordinarily honest diary entry from Kalonymus Kalman Shapira summarizes a reality that I often feel but would never be able to express so explicitly.  I don't think my language of faith could ever be stated so clearly, for one thing.  And another thing:  I'd worry about stating my disappointment that faith doesn't come as easily for those I teach.  I think we believing clergy members of all stripes face this dilemma and sublimate our frustrations in varieties of ways.  Some run, meditate, read, write, or exercise.  Others drink, smoke or simply stew, waiting to explode.  Still, for others, the sublimation is so intense that their frustration rears its head as transgressive behavior--usually embarrassing at best, humiliating or even illegal at worst.  In a category by themselves are those who achieve a kind of generous enlightenment.  I wonder if I'll ever get there (truth be told, I am not sure I'm the "enlightenment" type).  Here they serve with a kind of bliss and satisfaction, admittedly feelings or states of being that feel far from my grasp.

And so I hold fast to the Piasetzner Rebbe's words, if only because I've done it myself and it actually works.  I've walked to the window in a crowded room and addressed the sky and air and trees outside and irrational anthropomorphisms aside, felt heard by them.  These were not quite Buberian "I consider a tree" moments; rather, they were raw expressions of the shared language of existence that was more affirming of the reality of God than what I felt in the room, at that particular moment.

Earlier in my life I found a verbal resonance for this idea with the words of Yehuda Amichai:
Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window.
He must see the evil among thorns
and the fires on the hill.
And how people who went out of their houses whole
are given back in the evening like small change.

Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window,
his dark hair above his thoughts.
Behind him, words.
And in front of him, voices wandering without a knapsack,
hearts without provisions, prophecies without water,
large stones that have been returned
and stay sealed, like letters that have no
address and no one to receive them.
I still find resonance with these words, actually.  Amazing isn't it?  A dark, diary keeping Hasidic Rebbe who dies in Warsaw during the Shoah and the German Jewish Zionist refugee poet, who arrives in Palestine as a child, lived a full life and died in Jerusalem, having left his Tradition behind and praying the secular language of verse.  Both writings convey an essence--with Shapira anticipating despite his despair a day in the future when songs to God will be sung.  For Amichai, that moment will likely never come--"like letters that have no address and no one to receive them."

But I'm reading your poem, Yehuda!  I'm reading it now!  Out loud!

So goes my Yizkor on this Shavuot for two who continue to light the way.


David Slarskey said...

The sentiment you're expressing is not unique to those struggling with faith. It's the failure of language itself -- the communality it promises, and its inability to deliver.

Your post brings to mind an Emily Dickinson poem of which I am particularly fond:

I dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Prose—
More numerous of Windows—
Superior—for Doors—

Of Chambers as the Cedars—
Impregnable of Eye—
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky—

Of Visitors—the fairest—
For Occupation—This—
The spreading wide of narrow Hands
To gather Paradise—

It seems to me that if language were perfect, faith would be superfluous. It sucks to be human, but you can't communicate perfectly with anyone -- maybe that's God's work.

Andy Bachman said...

David--great insights. Thanks for the poem and for posting.

Marco Siegel-Acevedo said...

Seems the divine, or Creation, prompts creativity. Words fail us, but in the striving we create art. Always a visually creative person, I only "got" poetry at that point in my life when I felt I was accumulating the experience of the inexpressible dimension to things, from nature to relationships. Reading Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God" I came across this quote from British critic George Steiner:
"It is decisively the fact that language does have frontiers that gives proof of a transcendent presence in the fabric of the world. It is just because we can go no further, because speech so marvellously fails us, that we experience the certitude of a divine meaning surpassing and enfolding ours."