Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Death of Baal

I am not sure where my love affair started with is commonly called the Old Testament or Torah. It’s hard to pin-point really. I’ve always been aware of it on a more or less nominal basis. No little girl who spent as much time as I did in my Grandfather’s workshop could avoid it. My grandfather was a presser by trade in a garment factory who dreamed of being a scholar and having a house on Avenue Road. Tradition dictated that he should have been a luthier after his father, but my grandfather’s father abandoned his family before my grandfather met his 12th birthday. The repercussions of which meant as the oldest child, he had to take his turn making a living to help support his family.

My grandfather use to tape himself reciting poetry, psalms, and the Old Testament. He would take those tapes to work with him and as he while he worked he would play them back. I asked him one time why he made those tapes. He told me that sometimes his job would get very hard and he needed something to make his soul sing so he could do whatever hard thing was required in order that he could continue to care for all of us. To this day, there are lines of psalms which I cannot read without hearing the sound of his voice inside my head.

After I left my grandparent’s house I don’t think I bothered much with any religious writings until after I had children of my own. As part of their religious education in school stories from the bible were told. My children, being my children, were never content with the lessons and incessantly questioned every single word of the stories told much to the despair and frustration of their various teachers. I realized early on I would have to actively intervene to supplement those lessons if there was to be peace at the dinner table.

Around the time the Last Amazon was being prepared for her 1st communion we ran into great snags on two fronts. The Last Amazon had a hard time understanding or believing how the priest turned the communion wafer into the body of Christ. And even if she was to believe the priest was invested with magical and mysterious powers which turned the wafers magically and mysteriously into the body of Christ she was repelled at the idea of eating man-made flesh.

The second front concerned her younger brother Montana. He just couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of the trinity. He was insistent and convinced that it was a ridiculous concept for the Creator and Master of the Universe to make himself into human flesh in order to be his own human son to save mankind from the folly of sin. The more I tried to explain it, the more he felt in his six year old mind that all his grown-up authority figures were trying to pull the wool over his eyes.

It was at that point that Montana announced he preferred Moses to Jesus because Moses didn’t try to be a god, but he spoke to Lord, and the Lord who answered back in a language he could understand. A formula for the redemption from sin was already given which was logical and just to his mind. Just as sin was within the preview of human choice so was the path to redemption with no human sacrifice required.

So once again I was at a loss. You see, the various questions my children were asking were the same ones as I child I asked, and just like them, no grown up ever answered my questions to my satisfaction. A saying of my grandfather’s came to mind; what is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. And so, the Heretic breeds little Heretics.

In the end, we were able to reach a compromise position of sorts. I admitted I shared the same doubts but we would only study what I was sure of, and they would follow the religious traditions of the school until they graduated without too much fuss until such time that they could come to their own understandings.

The question became just what was I sure of? When I was very young I believed in a creator and master of the universe but by adolescence the weight of all my unresolved questions and resentments accumulated so deeply that I preferred public agnosticism while an inner atheism took root and cultivated in my soul.

I avoided religion and squirmed at all public rituals or professions of faith, preferring what I could touch and see rather than what was to be known by faith alone. That worked just find until the birth of my first child.

Most of my generation is probably better prepared for childbirth than at any other time in human history. We have books telling us one is going on in our bodies. We have movies of births to watch and experts to dispense knowledge and wisdom, and yet, I will tell you truly that nothing really prepares you for the experience. Every mother has her stories of childbirth. I am no different but I will only say. forget all the good advice the books and experts suggest on dealing with pain management without drugs once you hit the 10 hour mark. Take the drugs. Even with the drugs, it can be a tremendous physical and mental ordeal.

It was the birth of the Last Amazon who was my epiphany. My revelation of the knowledge of the presence of the Divine in my life. I held the proof in my arms and I knew I was blessed for I had received the gift beyond all human measure. I could not tell you what rituals or profession of faiths were correct but the words which came unbidden from my mind to my lips as I held my daughter for the first time was the first prayer my grandfather taught me. I have done absolutely nothing to have merited or earned such gifts, but I have strived to earn the trust which has been placed in me. For it is written; those who the Lord gives much, expects much in return.

I was going through the book store one day pondering the very question of what did I know for sure, when I spied a book called “A Guide for the Perplexed.” It was written long before I was born, but it seemed to be part of an answer for what I was searching for. Besides I was perplexed and I certainly could use a guide. It seemed tailor made for me and so I bought it.

I would like to say it was an easy read but it wasn't. Suddenly, for the first time since I learned to read with any proficiency, I was challenged beyond what I knew. It took a long time to finish reading that book. Me, who can devour a book of hundreds of pages in a few hours sitting - if all conditions are optimal. I was introduced to concepts and a religious complexity and tradition in which I had never been prepared for. I had no points of reference on which to follow along easily. One reference lead to another, and then another, but I was forever coming back to one common source; the Torah or Old Testament. There was nothing for it but to read it fully, and with commentaries written by others far more knowledgably than I.

I have often heard Christians remark they prefer the God of the New Testament than to the old. They perceive the G-d of the old as a cold, ruthless and demanding G-d. A deity, who demands obedience and metes out punishments to rain on both the just and unjust alike. Where is the love, the forgiveness or the redemption they ask? Where is the mercy?

And yet, this was not the G-d I encountered this time. I begin to marvel at the beauty and the wisdom contained in that book. There is literally no relationship between Divine and Man or between human and human which was not touched. I wondered at how these ancient people knew which stories to tell and which were of no consequence for future generations. Just how did they know? And what was their yardstick?

And the Exodus, I have come to fall in love with the Exodus beyond all other books contained in that writ. Here is the mercy, the love and the redemption. Here is the birth of mankind’s soul both collectively and individually. This is the fount from which all else springs. The Iraqi people, just like the Hebrews of the Exodus, have been delivered from their oppression. Today, the tyrant Saddam Hussein is dead and is of no more consequence than the shattered golden calf, but what is yet to be seen; is if the Iraqi people will collectively take up the yoke of the law and stand to be counted as a free people living in their own promised land of milk and honey.

No comments: