Sunday, June 17, 2007

taking good care of the name

"We live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure." 
Macrina Wiederkehr

I have felt lately as if I'm walking on the bottom of the river, with all the words and images up on the surface in the light where I can see them but not quite reach them. From the surface, they seem to be separate fragments, floating, and there so many of them--but from down here I feel the filaments trailing down from each one, criss-crossing into the deep of time and space and meaning.

((.)) Last week for a little while I held the hand of a colleague and friend who was just diagnosed with Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. Six weeks ago, she was still her radiant self: seeing clients, and writing, and immersed in her wide circle of friends and spiritual community, with no hint of disease. From the outside she seems like she is sleeping. On the inside, I know that her brain has filled with little holes, like a sponge. On the deeper inside, I know that in a day or few, perhaps by the Solstice, she will have completely dissolved back into her radiant Self.
A message just came from the website her family and friends have been keeping, to tell her many circles that our friend
"...left us just as the Solstice came to be this mid-morning. She is free now to move to another plane, her abiding spirit able to move to even greater heights. She had a smile on her face as she departed."

The last time we had coffee together was a few months ago, and we talked a lot about our mutual friend and teacher Bill, who died so all-of-a-suddenly in January.

((.)) Last month, I phoned a friend to see if I could join him for a "bird-sit" the next morning, a pre-dawn meditation in the woods that he and some other friends have been doing--just sitting outside and listening as the birds wake up in the morning. It turned out that he was in New York, called back because his twin brother had had some trouble breathing, been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, and then had a stroke while in the hospital. My friend's brother died less than a week later. They had just turned 41 in February.

((.)) In March, a cheer-ful and energetic woman whom I got to know while we were in Israel in 2004, was diagnosed with cancer in the gallbladder and liver, after having had many months of stomach pain, and after having lived through breast cancer 9 years ago. After extensive surgery, she was set to undergo follow-up radiation treatment when a routine CT showed that the cancer had already come back and grown more tumors in her abdomen. She manages to be devastated, deeply accepting of whatever comes next, and entirely open to miracles, all at once. She was at services two Shabbats ago, and looked great; you couldn't tell what was going on inside (the surface of the inside) if you didn't already know.

The stories aren't connected, except that each one is so intense, and abrupt, so peculiar, so much going on under the quiet surface.

((.)) Jack Ricchiuto wrote, describing 
an abrupt near-death experience of his own, "When we are conscious, we love all the stories."

((.)) Last month was the holy day of Shavuot: the commemoration of R
evelation, the occasion of the people receiving the Ten Commandments (it turns out that a better translation might be the "Ten Utterances" or the "Ten Principles" or maybe the "Ten Things") at Mt. Sinai.

My sense these days of revelation: 
moments fished out from the stream of light, which seems so far away but which enters right into me when I remember to turn my face towards it.

Our rabbinic intern, Olivier, offered a traditional Shavuot night study session (though we didn't quite manage to stay up till the birds started singing) We talked a lot about the dance between Descent and Ascent. The Yin and the Yang of creation and awakening. In the story of Sinai, the people (who are the Eternal in manifest, multivarious form) go up the mountain to meet the Mystery; the unmanifest Eternal comes down the mountain to meet us. Olivier says, "The universe wants this to happen, and it steps forth: God comes down" and we (all of us aspects of God), we go up. "But there is only so high we can go, while we live in bodies -- God has to come down." In our tradition, we also come back down, we don't stay on the mountaintop. For as long as we live in human form, we come down and go up and come down. For our own selves, and for each other.

Much later in the study session, we each drew a number from 1 to 10, our "Utterance" (or "Thing") for the year, to contemplate till next Shavuot. I drew the number 3, which is the one that's translated "you shall not take the name of God in vain."

Olivier shared Rabbi Ted's teaching on the Thing #3:

It is only on the surface level that we would perceive this to mean something as small as, "don't say 'God' as a swear word or curse." 

Under the surface, on the inside, with a deeper imagination, we remember the Self-name of God, the name that rumbles from the blazing bush in response to Moses' wondering who was speaking to him: "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh ~~ I AM as I AM"

If the name of God is I AM,
then who am I?

How can I take good care of this name?
In what ways do I use the name I AM unconsciously and what consequences does that generate? How often do I channel it into narrow pathways by the thought-less identifications I choose? Can I imagine I AM without bounds, without separation, without any identification at all?

((.)) I Am moved to read Chris' post, and all the keen and tender comments, on "Going to War at the Art of Hosting on the Art of Hosting" -- about clarity and surrender and collective shadow, about "fierce commitment to defend the territory of the open heart" and "the responsibility of love...
never to push our adversary or interlocutor into a place they cannot go unless we are prepared and awake enough to go with them to guard their back."

((.)) In a workshop over Mother's Day weekend, 5-element practitioner and Sufi healer Thea Elijah guided a classroom full of people in a practice of opening the heart and mind and body to Whatever-it-is we conceive of as the source of it all (I Am), for the benefit of all of ourselves and each other: 

First, let yourself as much as you can trust the world to hold you as you sit or stand or lie upon it. It can help to widen your base (what Thea called "pyramid butt"). At the same time "open your throat to awe and wonder" --that place in the throat that gets tight when we feel moved and touched--and open your mind and the crown of the head up to the Mystery and the "I don't know." Opening to connection all the way Down, and all the way Up. 
With so much space going down and up, the center of the chest, the place of the heart, feels more spacious too. See what you notice at the level of personal heart, at the front of the chest, where emotions rise up. Then let your imagination turn towards your back, to the deep chambers of the heart, and to the spine, which is "our pillar of eternity, our connection to the Infinite." 
Then allow yourself to open past that, to fall back past eternity, and with the back body open ("we are prepared and awake enough to go with them to guard their back"), let yourself fill up from that source, which we can call by so many names ~ Allah ~ Elohim ~ Deep Love ~ I Am ~ until you overflow into the group heart, the collective being.

((.)) During a summery, flowery, lunch on her deck, my elder-mentor-friend Anne asked me to describe that practice to her again. She said that it reminds her of a sensation she often thinks of: when you are rafting down a river, with your feet pressed firmly at the front of the raft, and your arms lifted, chest open, feeling the current of the river through your back, holding you up, and carrying you on.

((.)) On Saturday I attended the bar mitzvah of a friend's son, who in her words is "growing up beautiful and strong," including having healed from a brain injury after being kicked in the head last year by a group of kids who thought he shouldn't be in their neighborhood. He was magnificent, charming, genuine, funny (as my friend also said about her shining son in her little speech, "stylistically, there isn't anything more Jewish than the combination of intensity and humor").

Included in his service booklet, for the period of silent meditation, was this Rumi verse:

...Lo, I am with you always, means when you look for God
God is in the look in your eyes
in the thought of looking, nearer to you than your self
or things that have happened to you,
There is no need to go outside.

Be melting snow
Wash yourself of yourself.

A white flower grows in the quietness.

Let your tongue become that flower. 

Right now I am as close as I will ever be to having a tongue of flowers, breakfasting on those inward-facing blossoms we call figs.
And right now, I am finding a similar ripe and secret sweetness down here at the bottom of this river. I think of my friends and the look in their eyes. Mysterious perfect flowers blooming in the quietness. 
And right now, I remember, so Am I.

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