Book of Mercy #20-24

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Book of Mercy #20-24

Postby DBCohen on Sat Jun 23, 2007 10:49 am

The last thread had gotten quite long already, and I thought it’s time to start a new one. So this is the sixth part of the ongoing discussion of BoM, now in its seventh month. As always, I again express my hope that more people will join or rejoin the discussion. The recent internal wars have subsided for a while (let’s hope for a very long while), those lucky guys have already washed the send of Hydra off their feet and shook off their hangovers, some old-timers expressed their intention of rejoining, and so it is with - as always, cautious - optimism that I introduce the next prayer:

I.20

Like an unborn infant swimming to be born, like a woman counting breath in the spasms of labour, I yearn for you. Like a fish pulled to the minnow, the angler to the point of line and water, I am fixed in a strict demand, O king of absolute unity. What must I do to sweeten this expectancy, to rescue hope from the scorn of my enemy? The child is born into your world, the fish is fed and the fisherman too. Bathsheba lies with David, apes come down from the Tower of Babel, but in my heart an ape sees the beauty bathing. From every side of Hell is my greed affirmed. O shield of Abraham, affirm my hopefulness.


This seems like a good prayer with which to start a new thread, with babies and children being born (there has been a recent thread on this issue on the Form, I believe). On the other hand, it contains much of the familiar. We’ve often commented about BoM being a kind of mirror for the VP album and vice versa, and here we have another companion piece for “Hallelujah” (see also I.7). The ape and the king already appeared together in I.2; perhaps this prayer can help us reinterpret the earlier one. The connection between the apes and the Tower of Babel seems a new one, though. These are just some quick and early thoughts; let me point out only two more allusions:

to rescue hope from the scorn of my enemy – brings to mind many verses from the Psalms, although I can’t pin down a specific one. Here is one that might be relevant: “I say to God, my rock, "Why have You forgotten me, why must I walk in gloom, oppressed by my enemy?"” (Psalm 42:10).

O shield of Abraham – This is taken from the main daily Jewish prayer. We have often encountered the use of “shield” in this book, which one of its tentative titles was “The Shield”.
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby Manna on Tue Jun 26, 2007 8:50 pm

Funny how the first time I read this, I sort of shrugged and said, "eh."
And when I came to have a look today, I find myself blown away. Moved almost to tears. The boldness of joy and the sweetening of hope. I did have an important morning today, a good long walk, and I think it put me in a different frame of mind for the reading.
It makes me want to be more human, more here. I am fixed in strict demand. I think I felt something like that this morning. I had a feeling, an image really, of how the world acts on me and how I act on the world, like I am the vertex between two vortices. The fish wants the minnow, the man wants the fish, they meet for an instant at the seam of water and air where hope is satisfied.
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby blonde madonna on Sun Jul 01, 2007 7:41 am

I can’t get my head around this verse. I have read it over and over and it just shatters and flies away from me.
There are the comforting aspects: its familiar structure, the images of a women giving birth and an angler fishing (a natural order of life and death perhaps), the 'shield of Abraham' (DBC, this means God doesn't it?).
As with the last verse, it seems to me that the central lines, the turning point, the key to the verse, may be:
I am fixed in a strict demand, O king of absolute unity. What must I do to sweeten this expectancy, to rescue hope from the scorn of the enemy?

David (a regular stand in for Cohen) and Bathsheba (the woman that he lusts after) appear again but it is the image of the
apes come down from the Tower of Babel

that is the most powerful and disturbing to me.
It makes me think of the Elizabethan proverb (I have come across it in Shakespeare)
They that die maids, lead apes in hell

A ghastly punishment for celibacy awaiting old maids! Apes are symbols of man’s lower nature or lust. I have also read somewhere that the Qur’an has referred to Jews as apes (and Christians as pigs).

What does this mean? Does the speaker accept his lust and hope God does too, or does he hate himself for it and hope that God will rescue him from himself?
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby lizzytysh on Sun Jul 01, 2007 8:35 am

Thanks for posing these questions, Madonna. I've had the same problems you have here with getting your head around it... but I was having trouble even formulating any questions of comments on all of that. I was glad to see Manna appear with her input, and now you. I sure didn't want to see it sit here neglected, but as I said, I was at a loss to even describe my 'lossness' with the work.


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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby DBCohen on Mon Jul 02, 2007 10:24 am

Contrary to my earlier expressed hopefulness, this prayer did not elicit a lively discussion, with only three respondents – thanks to them - in about ten days. So I thought I’d add a few more of my thoughts about it while waiting for the other prodigal sons to return.

I think I.20 makes a pair with I.19, to which it is similar in some ways (and both are very different than the earlier I.18 as well as the following I.21). Both are relatively short prayers, that contain a direct appeal to God, spoken to as “you” and also using other attributes (which make them both rather “traditional” prayers, again, very unlike the previous and the following prayers, which are more like “stories”). In I.19 the main issue was language: the ability to speak, to sing, and also to hear the other’s voice in face of all the terror of existence. Here, too, language is an issue, especially through the image of the Tower of Babel, a major symbol of human language and its confusion, and the apes coming down it, which are the people, each with their own language, trying to make sense. The issue of cruelty and terror resurfaces here too through the “scorn of my enemy”. The request to affirm the possibility of joy, which ended the earlier prayer, comes up at the end of this one as the request “to affirm my hopefulness”.

Personal aspects also appear in both prayers. In I.19 it was the aspect of the artist, the singer, who asks to be allowed to express himself. Here the aspect is more of the private life, of love and carnal relations. This comes up also through the image of the ape, which here is in the heart, and which in I.2 we’ve seen it to be a caricature of the self (among other possibilities). He speaks here boldly about his greed that even Hell can’t break, but also ends with what seems to be a humble wish for hopefulness.

It is also interesting to see the recurring of images, sometimes in an indirect way. The images of the fish and the angler make you think of the earlier “like a worm on a hook”, although here it is a minnow rather than a worm, and the point of view is the fish’s, being pulled. The “infant swimming to be born” brings to mind the later “children who are asking to be born”. Perhaps I’m stretching it too far (and after all, every writer has their own typical language), but it’s an enjoyable pursuit.
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby mat james on Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:17 pm

“Like an unborn infant swimming to be born, like a woman counting breath in the spasms of labour, I yearn for you.”

Leonard seems to be saying that to “yearn for you”, that is to yearn for god, is part of his natural make-up. To “yearn” is in his nature.
“O king of absolute unity” “I am fixed in a strict demand” which is to seek you out.
The only trouble is that I (Leonard)am also human and beauty always distracts me from my quest for union with you. Holy Communion. Not the symbolic, but, the actual union, being one with each other in transcendental fixity…..authentic unity, a mystic symbiosis.
“O shield of Abraham, affirm my hopefulness.”
I can only assume that Abraham’s shield was his “faith”, for what utter madness it would be to agree to sacrifice your son to some crazy god if you did not have faith in him?
So I suggest Leonard is pleading for his faith to overpower his reason (which continuously points out his monkey nature). No doubt big Abe felt the same. Faith is often at loggerheads with reason.
Personally, I think reason should have ruled the day in Abraham’s case.
It is all symbolic I suppose and Leonard is pleading for ( “sweeten this expectancy”), satori, samhadi, cosmic consciousness, Holy Communion of the sweetest variety. Union.

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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby DBCohen on Mon Jul 02, 2007 5:31 pm

Great as always, Mat.

Just to clarify one point: “Shield of Abraham” is one of the many attributes of God in Jewish literature (Bible, Prayer book etc.). As I’ve said earlier, LC lifts this directly from the main Jewish prayer, said three times daily. The full sentence is: “King, Helper, and Savior, and Shield. Blessed are you Lord, Shield of Abraham.”

For further information please look here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidah
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby Christine on Tue Jul 03, 2007 7:59 am

Contrary to my earlier expressed hopefulness, this prayer did not elicit a lively discussion, with only three respondents – thanks to them - in about ten days. So I thought I’d add a few more of my thoughts about it while waiting for the other prodigal sons to return.

Hello Doron, I'm just here to tell you that maybe that's not so. I struggled with this in the middle of Saturday night. I did in fact post, then I started editing until in the end none of it made sense any more and then I deleted it. Please don't lose hope cos maybe there are more out there that look for more understanding of this.

I've gone back and forth on this and keep returning to the same place that this prayer is to help us with conflict, any kind. This example for me is about the great yearning for something forbidden (or considered so), else why the reference to Bathsheba and David, a story of infidelity, murder, terrible consequence (death of a child), God's forgiveness and blessing (another child).... to simplify things.

And yet is it so wrong to yearn so? Isn't there such great beauty in that? Something that seems so right, as right as an unborn infant swimming to be born. Yet these things that feel so right may not always be so.... who hasn't stood at the top of a skyscraper and felt that irresistibe pull? But if it isn't so right, what help may I find? What hope? Or do I justify it because we're all apes? The Tower of Babel makes sense to me. One people, one language striving to reach heaven. I've never really understood that story really because I don't understand why that's not a good thing. Yet the tower came down. And understanding was lost. A regression, a step back. Which leads us to the evolution theory and what conflict there?

Bathsheba was bathing when David saw her (is that right?). And we apes, why would we not see such beauty there?

The prayer for me is --please understand why I this is so hard for me, almost inevitable. Please help me to do what is right. And if I don't, please forgive me as you did David? Or will the shield of Abraham be my last resort? And what of Bathsheba? Was she okay? Or is this part of the greed?

"ABRAHAM'S SHIELD"

Reprinted with permission of the Holy Beggars' Gazette Vol 2 No 3

Not for commercial redistribution without consent
from the Estate of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

House of Love and Prayer, San Francisco CA, 5734
Rabbeinu speaking:

In the Shmoneh Esreh prayers, the eighteen benediction, we say
G-d is Mogen Avraham. What is a shield? A shield is to
prevent an enemy from getting close. What is it that Avraham is
shielding? The Gemora says that Abraham walks around at the gates
of Hell and he doesn't let anybody in. What does it mean? It means
that Avraham is shielding one deep little corner of our souls, so that
Hell cannot touch it. It means you can corrupt yourself so much, but
when it comes to certain deepest depths of your soul where Avraham
is standing as a shield you can't get through -- Hell cannot touch there.

There is koach, gvurah and adir, all different kinds of strength. The
difference between ordinary strength and majestic strength is
very simple. Even I had muscles strong enough to knock off the
whole world, if a little shmendrikle is sitting next to me his
muscles wont get any stronger. If I am the greatest scholar in the
world and the poorest little ignorant man is sitting next to me, he
can sit next to me for ten thousand years and he won't become any
more educated. There is one kind of strength, adir, which, if I
have it, I can give to the whole world being in the world. You
know what Avraham Avinu did to the world? He was here. There are
some holy holy people in the world who don't have to do anything, we
just know they are here. May you be blessed with the holiness of
Avraham Avinu: Give strength to the whole world just by your being.

And this is why I ended up deleting my post in the middle of the night Saturday? I ended up almost where I am now (more question marks than anything!!). But I do take strength from 1.20.

Forgive my ramblings. I'm gonna hit go now and not mess with this again. Else it'll disappear again!

Nite all.

Christine
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby mat james on Tue Jul 03, 2007 1:21 pm

Reading your collective postings has taken me off on a strange and new line of thought. All this babble about Babel 8) :wink:

“Word from the Tabernacle of Babel?”
(Or: “…the flight of the alone to the Alone”. Plotinus, around 260 A.D.)

The Tower of Babel/confusion:

Symbolically, if the story of the Tower of Babel is to have any “mystic” significance, it would need to be interpreted from “outside the square”, so to speak. One could say that it needs to be “inverted”. By this I mean we could look at interpreting its meaning…..from a different perspective.
The symbolism of the tower of Babel would be very useful in explaining the origins of different religions, rather than different languages.
For example, when a person experiences the “Mystic” they usually state that the experience was ineffable; and then proceed to talk about that unexplainable experience!
One could argue that they all explain their experience “differently”.
This experience of “god” is never explained quite the same once they “come down from the Tower” (or exit the experience), so to speak.
That is to say, they all speak a different language. God, to them and their followers, becomes their interpretation of that strange experience.
Our records of the story of Babel (and similar stories around the world) are sketchy, to say the least, and wouldn’t it be interesting if that story was slightly miss-quoted and therefore, forever lost, with regard to its initial symbolism?
Of course, this is only imaginative speculation on my behalf.
But the symbolism would work in a discussion on mysticism and the origins of the various religions that trace their “truth” back to a prophet who was a mystic.
The result would be confusion. It would have to be confusing as the experience is intrinsically ineffable.
One could argue that beyond that strange experience; all is babble and babbling (Babel).
Probably, if we traced the story back to its roots, there would be a phrase that goes something like this: "...after descending, they all spoke differently and went their separate ways."
This interpretation is of course, scripturally/traditionally, completely un-acceptable (unless one was a detective of a sort).
Does that make it wrong? :lol: :wink:

What are “the keys to the kingdom”?
What are the “keys”?
What is the “kingdom”?

Matj
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby Manna on Tue Jul 03, 2007 4:22 pm

mat, are you reading my mind? I have had that song - "Keys to the Kingdom" in my head since yesterday.

He had the keys to the kingdom
and faith unlocked the door
he had the keys to the kingdom
and the world couldn't do him any harm
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby lazariuk on Tue Jul 03, 2007 4:37 pm

That was so very interesting Mat.
Tower of Babel
The problems of connecting to the world after being drawn out of it.
Thanks
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby blonde madonna on Wed Jul 04, 2007 3:52 am

This is what I know of the Tower of Babel from the Old Testament.
1. It was a tower built by a united humanity (of one language, and of one speech) to reach the heavens (how presumptuous of them).
2. The Old Testament God (and he was a grumpy, mean, fierce old character) did not like this striving of humanity and decided to ‘confound their language’ so that they could no longer understand each other.
3. The people scattered across the earth and never did complete their tower. This is all Genesis tells us but some stories even say God destroyed the Tower.

It was taught in Sunday School as a lesson highlighting the dangers of human pride.
However, the apes descending from the Tower of Babel could be seen as an anti-God image.
A jealous God turns humans into apes, which causes them to turn on each other.
Divided and conquered.
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby DBCohen on Wed Jul 04, 2007 11:44 am

I see that the Tower of Babel is becoming the focus of the current discussion (and thanks for the picture, BM), so let me also, like Mat, offer another interpretation to the famous story. First, here is the text, for those who don’t have their Bibles at hand (Genesis 11, 1-9; I quote from the JPS translation this time):

Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world." The LORD came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and the LORD said, "If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another's speech." Thus the LORD scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel, because there the LORD confounded the speech of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.


It seems that what the builders of the tower were trying to achieve was to create unity and avoid diversity. Their fear, in their own words, was that they might “be scattered all over the world”. Therefore they decided to build a city, with that huge tower seen from all around the plane, so no one will wonder too far away; the idea of reaching heaven, which became the focus of later interpretations and was considered as their sin, seems incidental (they were just trying to construct a skyscraper, not to challenge God in Heaven). Their real sin was in their avoidance of God’s earlier command to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it” (Genesis 1, 28); and indeed, when God confounds their language he “scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth”, which is exactly the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. Even if we wish to avoid this connection with the earlier commandment, and view this story separately, we can still say that their sin was, first, that of cowardice (wishing to stay all together at home and avoid going out into the wide world, which is against human nature, at least in some respects), and, second, we can also say that they were laying the ground for Fascism: “one language, one nation, one motherland”. In that respect, God, who objects to their intentions, seems to be in favore of democracy, and certainly in favore of multi-culturalism (he also seems to have something against urbanism, but perhaps that too is incidental). In any case, to me the strong message of this story is that diversity is one of our most precious assets, and the more languages and cultures, the better. Unfortunately, we seem to be going back in the opposite direction, becoming more and more alike and using the same language, so God may have to intervene again at some point (but I do love this ability of using this specific language to talk with people all over the world! I only hope other languages will also survive, although some are dying almost daily).

What all this has to do with LC’s “apes” in this prayer? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure how he interprets the story, but I’m quite sure he’d be in favore of diversity.

P.S.
Christine, thank you very much for your interesting contribution, and sorry for not responding sooner and in more detail. Please keep it up and don’t worry too much.
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby lazariuk on Thu Jul 05, 2007 12:24 am

I.20
Like a fish pulled to the minnow, the angler to the point of line and water, I am fixed in a strict demand,


That he said "a fish pulled to the minnow" and not "a fish pulled to a minnow" wouldn't have caught my attention if it haden't been followed by "I am fixed in a strick demand"
Everything being said to you is true; Imagine what it is true of.
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Re: Book of Mercy #20-

Postby mat james on Thu Jul 05, 2007 1:32 am

DB,God had it right on this one!
Their real sin was in their avoidance of God’s earlier command to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it”

I'm all for that and I suppose Leonard, David and even Bathsheba are all in the same mind-set here.
I particularly like the "be fertile bit"! :D :twisted: :wink:
I enjoyed reading your ideas DB. Aand Jack L,
The problems of connecting to the world after being drawn out of it.
is a perspective I hadn't quite grasped on the tangent I took. It is very true, what you say.
Another thing to remember is that although the story of Babel comes to us via the Bible, it is considered to be much older than the bible. This brings about all sorts of problems relating to accuracy.
The people of Babel seemed to be reaching for the gods, as DB stated. Somehow things got all confused. This is a familiar theme.
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