Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shabbat, the Day of Unplugging

There was a recent article suggesting a "day of unplugging" based more or less on the Jewish practice of Shabbat.  The non-Jewish people who read it probably missed this part, not being familiar with the practice, and consequently took it to mean disengaging from the cell phone and from electronic communication in general -- an almost reactionary response to the proliferation of wired contemporary life.

OK, *goyim.  Here's the deal.. We do Shabbat.  Not as a one day rebellion against the cell phone and the computer, but as a lifestyle.  

My first experience of Shabbat was as a young wife.  We were visiting our parents in Santa Cruz and my musician husband happened to pick up an unexpected Saturday night gig at a local club.  He had a white shirt with him, but it was wrinkled and he needed to iron it. I say he needed to iron it.  No one who has seen my work has ever allowed me near a shirt with an iron a second time.  For this, I am grateful.  Meanwhile, since my mother was a professional seamstress and consequently would not have needles or pins or an ironing board in the house, we went across town to his mother's house to iron the shirt.

She was sitting in her chair with a copy of Reader's Digest when we arrived, and when Bob suggested he needed his shirt ironed, she smiled and said, "NO.  It's Shabbat."  How could he have forgotten?   Were we not just there the night before for Friday dinner?  But I was new to the idea of Shabbat itself.  I thought Friday night supper and light the candles, go to temple, and on with our lives.  It seemed she did not lift a finger on Shabbat, regardless of dire emergency.  They finally worked out he could do it himself, out of her presence, so long as she was not involved in it in any way.  So he did.  I was astonished at her steadfastness.  If you think about it, not doing any work at all is really, really hard.  For a Jewish mother NOT to do something for her own son is really amazing.  Clara Marchesi was an amazing woman. 

There's always something that needs attention -- something falls on the floor, the dishes pile up, empty soda cans collect, just a little bit of laundry to do... sorry.  None of the above can be addressed until three stars are visible in the night sky.   Doing dishes is plowing.  What if, when you let the water out, some leaks out of a pipe and accidently gets into the soil and moistens a sleeping seed and a plant grows as a result?  You see?  Plowing.  Get over yourself.  The dishes can wait.  Clara, an otherwise fastidious woman, could turn her back on all of it on Shabbat without mussing a hair.  That was just stunning to me. 

That was 50 years ago. In our present day of electronic living, Shabbat is even more difficult.  It isn't hard at all to avoid running out to the Mall or the supermarket, or doing the ironing, but there is so much online commerce that it's not that hard to forget yourself and open up to see if that book is as good as they say or take a look at this yarn or that computer, or just take a quick look your bank balance or pay that bill...  so Shabbat unplugging is not such a bad idea.   

But again, by looking at the surface we're missing the point of the exercise.  So we can't do a lot of stuff -- we are unpplugged at some levels -- on Shabbat, but what can we do?  Shabbat vayenafash.  (This literally means we become ensouled (nefesh).)  On Shabbat we are rested and refreshed.  We can read, take naps, do things that bring pleasure, like making love, eating good food, having pleasant conversations.  When we light those candles on Friday, twently minutes before sunset, we can actually feel the Sabbath Bride enter.  I swear, it's a tangible thing.  You can feel the Presence enter your home and settle in around you as a welcome guest.  She's there!  The Shekinah just comes right in the front door and makes Herself right at home.   Gives you a hug in greeting.  Visits for a little bit.  Bring out the best ever homemade Challah.  She deserves only the best.  Make that two loaves!  Wouldn't want her to think we're cheap! 

She brings with her a deep peace, Shabbat Shalom.  On Saturday night, 25 hours after it all began, we say Havdallah, lighting the many wicks of the braided candle, passing around the container of spice to remember the sweet scent of Shabbat, sharing the cup of wine, and then, with reluctance and determination, extinguishing the candle in its dregs.  You can feel her leave as profoundly as you felt her arrive.  Someone with real presence has gone out of the room.  There is a tangible emptiness. 

She'll be back! 

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam

asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu

l'had'lik ner shel Shabbat. (Amein)

  * n.b. -- meant to be affectionate, not offensive.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pants on Fire

In 1992, a couple of years after we retired to the Oregon Coast from San Francisco, this litle bit of politics popped up and hit me right in the solar plexus.  It felt like being kicked by a mule.  These things always do: 

“ All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided. ”

There was only one thing to do -- get involved in seeing that the thing failed at the ballot box. What a panorama of accusation. Is homosexuality really the equivalent of pedophilia? Are any of these things equivalents? Does having a gay teacher or hiring a gay worker in your office or renting an apartment to a gay tenant really "facilitate homosexuality?" Basically, it outlawed anything that would allow a gay person to survive. This was a nightmare of a ballot measure.

Then they sent in the troops.  Little old ladies with blued hair and sweet smiles, who spewed forth filth and misinformation with shocking disregard for either truth or profanity.  I heard one woman inform the crowd from a Methodist pulpit that since gays can't reproduce, they must recruit, and they are after your children.  She said they rarely live to be more than 30 because of all the sexually transmitted diseases they get since each one has more than1000 sexual partners over a lifetime.  She also went into detail about what they all did in the privacy of their boudoirs, which included things I would never have even imagined.  It took a pretty good (and filthy) imagination to come up with all that stuff, and probably a lot of porn to help it along.  Just stunning!  They had pamphlets with all of it in print so we could take it home and ponder the horrors of such a "lifestyle choice." 

As if.  After this event, a great many bumper stickers showed up around town that read "One recruit short of a toaster oven."   She left out the part about gay people having a great sense of humor in the face of adversity. 

We defeated the stupid thing by something like 630,000 to 430,000.  That was very heartening.  That 430,000 people fell for those heinous lies is a little scary.  The rural areas voteds for it and the urban areas voted against. 

The chief method they used to push this was lies to instill fear, loathing and hatred.  They did probably manage to work people up to the point where some guy came up from California and murdered two lesbian real estate agents simply for existing.  He thought they were monsters.   I have a different opinion about who the monster was.

Now I see these same tactics being used again, but this time the fear, loathing and hatred are directed toward our elected government, and specifically at our president.  It is also directed again the passage of a health care bill which, though not anywhere near good enough, is a lot better than anything we have now.  I don't think it's really health care they're after.  They want anything and everything this government attemps to fail.  It's Rush Limbaugh's strategy, and they are following it with vigor and malice.  It's appalling to me, but it's the same old poison-the-well tactics that extremists seem to prefer. 

The appalling racial and anti-gay name-calling and spitting behavior of the so-called tea baggers during their rally last week reminds me very much of the behavior of Lon Maybon and the other carpetbaggers who came up to Oregon from southern California to push their agenda of hate back in 1992.  He was eventually exposed for what he was and lost his near-cult following.  I can only hope the current batch comes to the same inevitable end.  Lies don't hold up very well in the bright daylight of reality.

photo credit: Google

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Discovering the Path

A friend of mine is exploring his spirituality and opening himself to finding his own path, free of dogma and definition.  This is leading him to explore a wide variety of religious expression and ideas as well as what he has learned in his own journey over the years.  He is searching for an authentic expression that fits his own soul and not something prescribed by someone else with other experiences and needs.  He is wisely not only looking into different traditions, he is using dreaming to explore this. 

Discovering that you have to forge your own path is awesome. Somewhere in the formation materials that I created years ago for The Third Order, Society of St. Francis, I wrote that there are as many paths to God as there are people.  Now, 25 years later, I would say there are many, many more. It's like solving for pi -- you can go on working on it for a lifetime and never finish or repeat the same sequence twice. I believe those paths are infinite. There is not only not just one way; we can't even conceive of the limitless possibilities. The unique possibilities of finding God are as multitudinous as the aspects of God's existence.  And יהוה, the unpronounceable Hebrew name of God, is a form of the Hebrew verb "to be" -- it actually translates as "existence."  God is existence itself! 

And your path changes all the time.  As you grow and progress along your way, more unfolds for you and your possibilities broaden.  There is a limitless spectrum, like many parallel worlds unfolding before you.  God is present in all of it.  There is nowhere you can go where God is not.   By God, I'm not talking about some old guy with a long white beard, wearing a nightgown, perched on a cloud.  I'm talking about the numinous, the holy other, the more-than, that permeates all that is.  I can't define it or describe it better than that.  What I call God is too huge to shrink to fit my comprehension, or yours, though people attempt that all the time.   People point to "scripture" to justify this, but scripture is not God.  It is stories we have written to try to explain the incomprehensible to each other -- to lessen our fear of the storm and the earthquake, to give ourselves a false sense of security in a very insecure world.  If we adhere to these magic formulae, the bad thing won't happen.  If we go to the right church, wear the right head-covering, believe the right thing, do or forbid the right things, eat or avoid the right foods, we will not be cast into the depths of whatever passes as hell for us.  Those are very child-like ways of approaching spirituality.  (I define spirituality as our ways of looking at God.)  They probably will not hold up under much scrutiny, and they will not bring us any closer to God.  In fact, many times people use them to avoid encountering God altogether. 

A lifelong friend of mine is a Tibetan Buddhist.  He writes brilliantly about it and shares his writing with me via Google docs.  We met while waiting to go to confession in a very high church Episcopal parish in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco about 40 years ago.   Now I'm a Jew and he's a Buddhist.  The things he teaches about Buddhism are mostly no less true of Judaism.  While I know I do not understand the deep intricacies of it as he does, the broader themes resonate with me and translate to my own experiences over the years.  There are some basic themes that run through all religious expression and experience. 

I watched a short segment on CNN today with Christiane Amanpour interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, who is also an Anglican priest.  They were speaking about the Truth and Reconciliation councils that Tutu headed in South Africa.  They said coming to peace after apartheid was a matter of listening to and accepting one another's stories.  "You don't have to accept that my story is right," she said.  "Only that it is right for me."  How profound that is.  How much peace in the world, and in our personal and spiritual lives, there would be if only we accepted that as a guide.

Photo Credit: mrsaxon's photostream on Flickr

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things That Should Never Happen

Emma Alice loves princess outfits and parties.  Here she is with a flower painted on her cheek -- gilding the lily -- at a friend's birthday.  Emma is four.  Something has befallen Emma that no four-year-old should ever have to experience.  She has just been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. 

Emma is our next-to-youngest grandchild and she is very precious.  She has left an imprint on my heart that I can call up any time -- the feel of her solid little body on my lap and my arms around her.  I am conjuring that up now and holding her in my arms for all I'm worth, tethering her to this world and the family and life.  I am doing it in my sleep and while I am awake.  Oh, Emma, how we all love you and want you whole! 

And Emma is a fighter.  Someone called her a warrior goddess, and she is.  She is tough as nails in that four-year-old's body and is fighting this like a tiger.  Her beautiful mother calls her Chuck Norris because of the way she is responding.  She did not cry during horribly painful things like bone marrow draws or spinal taps, but only once because she missed her brother Nate so much.  Now she gets to see him and they can play together in the hospital playroom.  It's a very good hospital, created especially for children, and they understand what a four-year-old needs. 

The worst of this is that nobody four years old should ever have to go through the medical stuff Emma is going through.  It's hard to imagine an adult going through it, let alone a child.  Her mother and father love each other very much and cherish their children and share in their parenting beautifully.  Their situation is strong and stable and eminently functional and they are united in this completely.  Even so, it is going to be rough on everybody -- most of all Emma. 

Some would say they will be "challenged," as if some supernatural force is playing with their lives.  That's just wrong.  They are in a difficult situation, but God is not challenging them to see if they're up to it.  Some would ask why this has happened.  There is no reason.  It's random.  Some genetic bit mutated and Emma's bone marrow started producing too many white cells too quickly and some of them are immature and messing up her immune system.  No one knows why that happens -- could be a virus, something in the air, a random accident of nature.  Nobody knows for sure, and nobody pissed off God to provoke it.   It just happened.

Though God did not cause this, God is very much present in her care: not as an intervening puppet-master, but as the stuff of life itself.  God is in all the interstitial spaces between the atoms and quarks of our existence.  God is in the energy of our breathing and our healing.  When we pray for Emma, we focus that God-energy on her and and on her family, adding some of ours to their own, and we hold them up and help her overcome this monster that has come out from the dakrness under the bed and attacked her.  That's how I believe it works. 

The princess Emma, warrior goddess, will prevail..  Of this, I am sure. 

May the One who blessed our fathers,
May the One who blessed our mothers
Hear our prayer, hear our prayer
And bless us as well.
--Mi Sheberach, a Jewish prayer for healing