April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
We are in the midst of Passover. Since I first learned about this holiday, it has appealed to me because it honors and commemorates the release of an oppressed people from slavery. Somewhere along the way I lost my faith and interest in religion. I still seek comfort in prayer. For me it is pausing to tune in to whatever goodness there is in me and to consider with some seriousness whatever is bothering me or frightening me.
One thing that results is a conscious recognition that, at that particular moment, nothing bad is happening. So, I remind myself that, once again, I have forgotten the simple wisdom in living in the present instead of the past or the future. That I have no way to change the past and very limited ability to control the future. This comforts me. I have found that intellectual analysis concerning the identity of the one listening to my prayer is both unnecessary and pointless. The process is useful, regardless of whether it makes sense.
I do not recommend this to anyone. I abhor evangelizing.
There have been some very significant and mostly unpleasant changes in my life. Beverly, since January 10, been either in the hospital or at a rehab facility, where she is now. She has developed a major degree of dementia secondary to Parkinson’s Disease. She no longer regards me with the kind of love and caring that we shared for most of our lives. I go to see here almost every day, but our visits are not happy ones. She rages because she cannot return home. Some time in late April or early May, it will be necessary to transfer her to some other facility. It has become apparent that she cannot return home because she will require care by people trained to prevent her from falling and hurting herself, and to help her with the routine tasks of daily living. I know she will not like this and I fear that it will further separate her from me and from our life together, regardless of how much time I spend with her.
One result of these changes is that I spend a great deal of time alone and I have more time to think about and read about the issues that interest me. It is a way of escaping from obsessing about Beverly and the future (see above).
Which brings me back to Passover. I have taken time to read the Biblical description of the events that led to Passover. Refreshing my memory about them has tarnished somewhat my positive perception of the holiday. As most of you know, Passover refers to God’s warning to the Jews enslaved in Egypt to mark the lintels and thresholds of their homes with lamb’s blood so that God’s lethal force would not kill all the first-born persons in Jewish homes. I knew this but, for some reason, I had never paused to think about the fact that this warning was necessary because God was going to, and did, kill every single first-born Egyptian person, as well as the first-born cattle owned by Egyptians in one single, terrible night.
This horrific slaughter occurred after a succession of horrors – plagues of frogs, flies, lice, and hail storms mixed with fire, and turning the Nile into blood – failed to effect the Pharaoh’s release of the Jews from slavery. Now this punishment of an entire nation of people, including the mass murder of their children was not even based on the stubborn recalcitrance of their autocratic Pharaoh. After each of the preliminary punishments the Bible states that “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and he refused to let the Jews go. Which means to me that it was not Pharaoh who was being unreasonable. He was merely reacting to the string-pulling of the puppeteer: God. In fact, God made what seems to me to have been a confession about this point.
When God sent Moses and his brother Aaron to negotiate with Pharaoh, he told them that God did not intend that they succeed. Here is what he said:
“Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt
“But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.
“And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7: 2-5.
This is bad faith bargaining in steroids. It is what we now think of as terrorism. And if the Biblical account is accurate, God backed up his threat with mass murder.
There is a down side to having time to go back and read and think about things that I accepted and treasured. I still honor the Passover holiday as a basis for celebrating the release of oppressed and enslaved people. The Exodus story is important to our black community. The flight from Egypt culminating with crossing the Jordan into the promised land has been a treasured hopeful story for black slaves and descendants of slaves in America. I claim no expertise on this matter, but I suspect that, for blacks, that story has the kind of resonance that the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence has for all Americans, black and white. As for me, I wish I had not taken the time to think beyond my reaction to the “up from slavery” part.
Finally, as a postscript, I will add a couple of verses from the Rubaiyat that still appeals to me, even if I do take time to think about them:
57 Oh, Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin Beset the Road I was to wander in, Thou wilt not with Predestination round Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin 58 Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make, And who with Eden didst devise the Snake; For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man Is blacken'd, Man's Forgiveness give---and take! Maybe the tent maker had it right.