|Imagine this door flung open with nothing|
beyond it but the sea: that's the feeling of an
open heart. From The Intrigue of Passageways
(holy cow, it's got so many beautiful arches),
a profile of Sarka-Trager Photography
It's also Easter today, and although I'm what would probably be best termed a Taoist secular Jew, I went with my boyfriend's mother to a Catholic mass this morning. I went a couple years ago, as well, and wept through the whole service because it was a beautiful spring day and I was having a deeply spiritual experience connecting the story of the Resurrection to the cycles of Nature and the human need to celebrate rebirth, etc etc, very pagan and whatnot. This year I wept through the whole service again, but had a different set of revelations -- and yes, they were about gifts.
|The subtitle of this amazing book used to be|
"Imagination & the Erotic Life of Property."
Now it's "Creativity & the Artist in the Modern
World." Either way, you should read it now.
There are things that we earn, by hard work or perseverance or whatever. But a number of the most spectacular, wonderful, delicious, delightful and marvelous things in life come towards us no matter who we are or what we have done, and these are the things that I would call gifts: sunlight is a gift, and apple blossoms, and the wonder that is consciousness; an innate affinity or talent for something, whether it be math or music or plumbing, that of course needs nurturing and practice and refinement but still, on some level, just got given to us; a family that cares for us, a moment of inspiration, a healthy body, all the things that we did nothing to deserve but get to have anyway: in a way, a gift is related to delight. And like delight, if we treat a gift like something we've earned, something tragic happens to it. The wonder is lost, but so, too, is something else: both a sense of gratitude and a sense of generosity.
|A beautiful morning, also from |
The Intrigue of Passageways
And so is generosity, another feeling that is suppressed when we treat gifts like things we have earned. When you are delighted by something marvelous coming to you for no reason other than that there are marvelous things flowing through the universe, it becomes easy and delightful to pass on the experience - whether that comes in the form of literally giving something, from kind words to shelter, or simply manifesting & passing on the spirit of the gift, as artists do who feel moved to make music or books or paintings that communicate something of their experience to others. If you feel like you deserve the things you get, there ceases to be any reason to pass them on: why, I earned this; this is clearly for me. And that's swell and all, and I'm not advocating for generosity because I think keeping things for yourself is awful and evil and terrible and selfish. It's just that being generous is part of the sense of participating in the flow of gifts: gratitude is how you feel when the gift comes in, generosity is how you feel when it goes out. And it feels awesome.
That being said, it is easy to be over-generous - to grow so caught up in the blissful satisfaction of giving that you actually give away things you need. I know women who will bend over backwards for others without hesitation, who never ask for anything in return, and are glad to do so. But often they cease to be able to say no, which is to say - they lose the ability to give to themselves. And it's really terrifically important not to forget to be generous with yourself, to give to yourself, to nourish yourself, to share compassion with yourself. Compassion and generosity and gratitude are not self-effacing; they don't somehow weirdly count less when you turn them inward. In fact, one of the things I like best about Buddhism is the clarity with which it states that you must have compassion for yourself first. You cannot be truly compassionate towards others if you do not not how to practice it towards your own darn self.
The famous Jewish sage Hillel has a saying that always makes me a little weepy which says exactly the same thing.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when?
|..."Buddha Bunny," however, seems to be |
a safe search. Via Lola the Lovely Lop.
Well, aside from the fact of it being a bunny-centric festival, the reasons for thinking about this during an Easter service should be pretty clear. Here we've got a guy who goes around being really nice to everybody, advocating for forgiveness and love of the poor and non-judgement and open-heartedness, and just to prove to everybody that he really means all this stuff he goes ahead and gets himself killed. But before he goes he literally tells his followers to share his food and drink as if they were his body and his blood. Believe in him, he says, in what he says and in the generosity he demonstrates and the gifts that he gives, and you'll be one with the Holy Spirit.
And now let me be extremely blasphemous for a second here. Listen, I get very weirdly emotional in church. I'm pretty sure it's the music -- me, a nice hippy Bay Area Jewish girl who never got bat mitzvahed, and I literally cannot sing the word Alleluia without tears streaming down my cheeks. (Those incredible liturgical Amens get me too.) Listening is intense enough; if I go ahead and sing along, bam, floodgates, heartstrings, spiritual expansion, divine transcendent something. So I get profoundly moved in Catholic masses, even cheesy ones. (I have now been to exactly the same number of synagogue services and Catholic masses. That number would be, um, two.) So I tend to feel very sensitive to the idea of faith while in church. And also I really, really, really want to understand why it is that bajillions of people believe in this bizarre Zombie Jesus thing. Not in a flippant way, honest - look, clearly this stuff is important, and I'm just not getting it. The thing I really don't get about Christianity is this idea of redemption, this thing about Jesus coming down and erasing sin, except there's still sin, except not if you accept Jesus, except -- I find it baffling. And I had this moment during the service today. An aha moment.
Jesus wasn't a Jew. He was a Buddha.
I don't mean this literally. As far as I know, nobody in Jesus's time knew diddly squat about Asia. I mean that the completely selfless act of the death of Jesus got, well, completely misinterpreted.
Go ahead, storm out of the room now. It's fine. I'm entitled to my belief too. (Although if you're reading this blog at all without setting fire to your screen you're probably liberal-minded enough to bear with me on this one and you're not having a self-righteous hissy fit.)
|Christ in Silence, by one of my all-time|
favorite artists, the Symbolist Odilon Redon
Pastel, 1895-1899. Via Pastel News.
This is a thing worth having faith in.
|Buddha, also by Odilon Redon. What up, |
similarity. I see you there. Pastel, c. 1906.
Of course, I'm a Jew. I might not be religious, but I throw a mean Seder, and in my blood there resonates shtetl stories and Klezmer music, candlelight and herring and neuroticism and a whole lot of argument with a God who might have chosen His people but didn't see any reason to keep them from suffering. See, all of this stuff about compassion and generosity is well, not unJewish, but it's not really the most important part of Jewishness either. I've never heard a Jew say "God is Love" with a straight face. Why bring this up and spoil my nice tidy point about compassion and all that? I suppose because it would be disingenuous of me not to. Because my own particular way of seeing the world, which is in many ways very Jewish, is a gift. It informs my art, my creative self, my sense of the numinous and the mysterious and the darkly wonderful things about the world. There's a lot of joy in it, festivity and family celebration. And the part of me that is driven to create, the part of me that feels like light welling up inside a jar until I just can't hold any more and I've got to let it pour out, to give it back, to give it up, to say my thanksgiving, to express my sense of blessing, to tell the story -- well, that part feels very Jewish.
|Marc Chagall, Solitude, 1933, via Hermit's Thatch|