Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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With the heart of a dancing lover
Like the song of an ancient friend
I hear a voice calling me
Home . . . Home again.
Standing on the roof of a building high above Chapel Hill, I watch the sun passionately set. The sky is dazzling. The end of day heralded by pastels of tangerine, salmon, crimson, lavender, azure. Voluptuous swells of purple cumulus clouds glide across the lower sky while, high above, sleek streams of feathery cirrus race into the darkened east. I am awed. Brilliant fall trees go endlessly into the distance — some bare, some ever-green, most involved in the staggering transition of seasonal change.
The cool air moves gently over my bare head and hands. I breathe deeply, gratefully. Every breath brings memories, wisdom, peace. I search the sky, I search myself for the right words. I want to communicate what seems so important and totally encompassing in these moments.
There is an amazing connection between this minute human being who sits and thinks and writes and blows on his hands to warm them, and the incredible immensity and beauty of the universe. My eyes now see a sparkling evening planet and the soft glow of the rising moon. I wonder what causes my heart to simultaneously rejoice and cry? I feel like a person who has found his/her soul partner after a lifetime of searching countless faces and bodies. But who have I found?
For most of my life, God did not exist outside of religion, and my association with religion was filled with unpleasantness. I was the Jewish boy in a New York City elementary school who knew nothing of Judaism except that I missed a few days of classes for holidays of unknown meaning and pronunciation. As an adolescent in Charlotte, North Carolina, I attended my first sabbath service during which I distracted myself by imagining “making out” with various female worshippers and by feeling guilty about my unreligious attitude. In a private discussion with the rabbi, I was gently scolded for thinking that Jesus was King of the Jews (but the movie King of Kings said so!). In this overwhelmingly “Christian” town (highest number of churches per capita in the United States), the first question that many people met me with was, “What are you?” I would squirm with anticipation of their response, which usually was: “Oh, I know someone who’s Jewish. Do you know . . . ?”
Early in college, I attended religious services of several different denominations. I always found my conception of the universe at great variance with theirs. By 1970, I was disappointed and resigned to the idea that no church could give me what I sought. I decided that I did not need religion to enjoy my life, and the concept of God was, to me, somewhere between meaningless and ridiculous.
God is an unutterable Sigh in the Human Heart, said the old German mystic. And therewith said the last word.
— Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments
I know several people whose emotional and intellectual perceptions of “God” are so negative that they will not (cannot?) fit God into any of their life understanding or experience. God “turns them off” as God once “turned me off.” I write this column in the hope that these words may stimulate some of you to see what I feel is so obvious and yet to which it is so easy to be blinded. To others, I only hope that this is another reminder of that which you know so well (and I realize that anything can be a reminder). I feel somewhat awkward and uneasy as I write. I am trying to articulate something that my heart knows with much more certainty than my brain. And my heart, just beginning to open, is often buried beneath doubt, insecurity, pain.
I believe that this universe cares about us. Everything that happens to us serves a purpose in our growth, our realization of who we are. We are not autumn leaves blowing in a cold and careless wind, but are travellers on the mysterious and wonder-filled paths of our lives. As we become receptive to the beauty, love and wisdom that permeate our beings, we begin to move more easily. Happiness is, naturally, not possible (or even desirable) all of the time, but an acceptance and appreciation of the hurt, sorrow, emptiness does become possible. As we appreciate the totality of our life experience, we get in tune with the rhythm of life. If we are able to accept that whatever is is (and, if possible, feel grateful), pain will move through us more quickly. We will not frustrate ourselves wishing life, other people, ourselves were different. The pain will still hurt, but we will realize that it is as much of a gift as the joy.
And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would seem no less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen.
And the cup he brings, though it burns your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.
— Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I try to live with love and honesty. Sometimes I do not. I realize that as I live in what I know is “the right way,” I have nothing to fear. I experience this with great frequency on the material plane. I want work, money, possessions, and presto!, they appear or my needs disappear. The lesson from this is that if I stay centered in the present and do what I want to do (which is what I need to do), everything that I really need will come. I am more patient and trusting. I am less in a hurry to be the person or get the things that I once thought were important. I experience the most enjoyment and security when I live in the present, and am able to be sensitive and responsive to myself and the environment. I am, at last, beginning to really want to be who I am rather than who I think would be the perfect me. Sy said to me, “You’re already great. We’re all great.” I begin to believe.
As we worry less about getting what we need, we are much more able to give. I come to realize that the opportunity to give or share or help is a gift. As we appreciate the bounty of our lives, we realize that we can afford to give who we are and what we have. So many people have taught me by their generosity. I see my life, all lives, as a continuous re-cycling of that which we are so abundantly given. We can feel empty and hungry, and continuously be wanting more; or we can appreciate our incredible affluence and give as easily as we have been given.
What does this have to do with God? Certainly God does not have to be called God to be known. To love God is to love life, to love the miracle that keeps us alive and will kill us. To love God is to realize that this universe is a family from the simplest or smallest to the most gargantuan or complex.
Is God another escape from the hunger of life? Perhaps. To me, God is opening one’s self to what is. God is the source of everything and is everywhere. God is realizing how wise, and kind, and totally mysterious this universe is. God is feeling the love that, once felt, one can never forget. Once seen, that love is visible in the face of every being. Once known, that knowledge is available in every moment. Once felt, that generosity makes every act of life a gift.
Religion is worshipping at the altar of Life. God is coming home . . . again.
O Lord, help us when we need to be strong
O Lord, forgive us when we know we’ve been wrong
Don’t forget your people when they’ve lost their way
O Lord, teach us how to say your name
O Lord, teach us how to pray . . .
(excerpted from song by Robert Donnan)
I will respond to any questions, concerns, or comments that you send to me, Leaf, care of THE SUN, Box 732, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
The written word is so important in allowing an exchange between people that cannot meet. Ever since I came to this country seven years ago, have I yearned for a publication that I felt would deal with people, thoughts and happenings without always bringing out the violent world we live in. Your SUN is an exchange between your contributing writers and me. I feel very much part of the SUN. You print many thought-provoking articles, or for that matter poetry. Leaf Diamant can be so inspirational when he allows me to share his thoughts. This last contribution in the latest issue was such a piece. Priscilla’s photography, Sy’s poetry — I could go on and on, just let me tell you, I look forward to meeting you all again and again. You have all become part of my family, thank you for letting me be inspired. Have a good 1977!
I want to end by sharing with you a poem written by the Swedish Poetress Karin Boye. She became a giant in her short life-time (1900-1941) in Swedish literature. Please, my translation is rough, allow for more rhythm if it was in my native language!
Prayer To The Sun
Merciless One with eyes that have never seen
Liberator who with golden hammers breaks the ice,
Straight like thin lines — the stalks of the flowers
are drawn up —
The trees know their power, their might towards
only when they are up there, do
they spread their lifethirsty embrace — full with
Mankind — you took him from a rock with blind
eyes to a wandering, swaying flower with winds
of the sky around his forehead.
You are the stalk and the trunk
you are my spine.
Not my life. Not my skin. The Gods do not deal
with what is only surface.
With cold eyes and broken limbs, it is you who
You are with the one who dies straight, when
darkness engulfs darkness. The thunder rises.
The night embarks.
Life shines so deeply —
Save — God of Lights
What you created.
— Karin Boye