08 November 2010

150 (112-114)

112. "Happy is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth in His commandments."  Now there's a proposition for the Liberal Jew:  Can you delight in the Commandments of Judaism?  I mean, truly be happy about them?  We complain often about what we have to do and operate in Liberal Judaism under the construct that what we do as Jews is what we *want to do* -- a kind of promise we make to ourselves that above all else we are autonomous and this is what makes us happy.  But what of the proposition that our devotion to something greater than us is what makes us happy?  Serving another greater than ourselves--whether in earthly or accumulation or heavenly immanence.

I have come to believe at the age of 47 that if it's all about us, then all is darkness.  But here the psalmist comforts me:  "Unto the upright He shineth as a light in the darkness, gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous."

I want that light.

It drives away and establishes.  It endures.  Forever.

113.  "From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof the Lord's name is to be praised.  The Lord is high above all nations, His glory is above the heavens."  Be careful not to get too drawn down into the idea of God's reign but think first about the time frame--from the rising of the sun to the going down--and what it might mean to retain that idea all day long.  Maintaining one's faith in that way, all day long, is difficult.   You need some things to do to keep the engine "a huffin' and puffin' and chuggin' like a choo-choo train" as Mavis Staples might put it.  Try these suggestions:  "Who raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the needy out of the dunghill; that He may set them with princes, even with the princes of His people."  Sunup to sundown we must play the role of equalizers, in partnership with the Great Equalizer.

114.  This psalm is a family favorite, at every Seder, every year.  We remember a late, old family friend, a former Protestant intellectual, who sat at family Seders and laughed with pleasure at the joyous and slightly comic metaphor employed herein:  "The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep."  Someone reads that line from our Hallel each year at Passover and we remember our old friend, who loved this line, was amused by it, and our laughter covers our grief at his passing too soon.  

But for me, at this point in the Seder, I've already had a few glasses of wine and my soul is slowed by the fermented lubricant coursing through my veins.  I stay with the moment.  God narrating God's own miraculous moment, of a splitting sea, redemptive.  Ordinarily we may stand before the crashing waves and behold God's power.  But what of a sea itself, so overwhelmed that the sea itself flees from its own crash and rush of waves?  It flees its own miraculous moment.  And on dry land, it's not that rams themselves skip along over hilltops but that the hilltops themselves skip like rams--the moment is that large.

Here God intercedes with -- and we must admit this -- Divine Sarcasm, almost mockery.  "What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleest?  Thou Jordan, that thou turnest backward?"

Does the laughter mask a reality too great to bear?  A world transformed into a manifestation greater than what we could ever imagine, so radically re-altered as to have the sea flee from itself?  The mountains skip not *with* rams but *like* rams, those mountains nothing but a mere earthly iteration of Divine will?   Not crashing waves that inspire fear in we who witness their power but waves themselves fleeing a more mighty and terrible power than even they, our superior in strength, could ever imagine.

Laughter here becomes fear.  And fear becomes awe.  The ultimate equalizer.

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