A Wake-Up Call ...
I was pulled by an irresistible calling to dive in deep, head first, under the Calendula flowers in my garden. I jumped in only to meet face to face with a swarm of bees. I was engulfed by hundreds of them. It was warm and sweet and bright as I lay there very still, filled with awe by their vibrant loud buzzing. There was nothing but love in the air, and great beauty and great terror in this intimate moment of sensual communion with the mysterious makers of sweet honey. I felt them crawling under my shirt…one wrong move and I could be stung to death. I took a deep breath, and another, and slowly opened my eyes. It was dark and I was hit by the bitter sting of the creeping realisation that it was just a dream. The bees were gone, I was in my bed, awake, back in this nightmarish real world of lockdown, separation, Brexit politics, and other pain. Winter solstice 2020.
It was way past midnight, and a wave of deep grief washed over me, leaving me with the feeling of great loneliness and a longing hard to describe in words. In this darkness, I felt strangely homesick, even though I was in fact, physically in my own bed at home…
I lay there awake for a long time, with the words of Wendell Berry’s poem 'The Peace of Wild Things' ringing in my ears:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I love this poem, and indeed nature is often my greatest healer, but on this solstice night, my soul was yearning for solace beyond the temporary relief of the peace of wild things…
I kept turning in my bed when a memory bubbled up from my deep to the surface. It was an old 18th-century story. My inner mouth spoke it and my inside ear listened:
‘Once upon a time, a world-renowned physician walked into a house of study to challenge the teacher, the wise and holy Rabbi - The Baal Shem Tov, in front of his disciples.
“I hear people say that you, Rabbi Baal Shem Tov, are a great healer, but I do not believe just a mere word unless I see it is true with my very own eyes! You are not a doctor so how can you heal? I challenge you here and now to a competition. We shall both examine each other and see which one of us can diagnose best the condition and sickness of the other.”
The Baal Shem Tov looked at the man and welcomed him in with a smile: “It will be a great privilege for me to be examined by a great master of medicine like you! Please go ahead, and diagnose me first, when you are ready.”
The doctor opened his bag, brought out a set of tools, and started peeping into the Rabbi’s ears, eyes, nose, and mouth, checking his pulse, pulling his hair, pinching and poking his body all over. After a very long examination, he had to admit defeat. “You are the healthiest man I have ever seen! I cannot find any sign of an illness you may have”, he said.
The Baal Shem Tov laughed and said: “I am not surprised you say this…yet, I have an illness and it is an invisible one…I have been suffering from it for years. You see, I am consumed with longing and yearning for God. This longing is so powerful that I often wake up at night with my heart palpitating with agony.”
The Rabbi paused for a moment and looked into the doctor’s eyes: “Will you now give me the honour of examining you?”
The doctor nodded, slightly embarrassed, and so The Baal Shem took his hands and held them whilst looking deep into his eyes. He kept silent for a long while and then asked:
“Doctor, have you ever lost something precious and dear to you?”
“Well, yes, I once owned a large diamond, but it was stolen from me”, said the doctor.
“I see, so that must be the sickness you suffer from!" said The Baal Shem Tov.
“Are you joking, you say my illness is my missing diamond?"
"No dear friend. I am saying that my sickness is yearning for God and your sickness is that you have forgotten that you ever had that desire."
The doctor seemed silent and thoughtful. He looked into the eyes of the humble Rabbi and saw in them an ocean of longing. Then a tear welled up in his own eye and rolled down his cheek. Still holding the hands of the Rabbi, he began to sob. When he caught his breath, he mumbled “Please Rabbi, heal me… please, teach me how to find my longing again.”
The Rabbi’s eyes shone as he replied: “My dear friend, I am glad to say your healing has begun.”
I looked out through the window at the dark night outside.
This damn unexplained longing…I have experienced it before. What should I do?
I can always run away from it to check my emails…
But, what if I dare follow it? Dangerous…it can destroy the illusion of certainty I have constructed about myself, leaving nothing! Except maybe…that in me which is indestructible spirit.
This spirit longing to be found…is what I so long to find. A hide and seek game with God.
Earlier that morning my seven years old son and I had built together a small wooden manger to host Mary and Joseph on our Christmas table. We also made a donkey and a bull from clay (and an elephant which my son determinedly insisted was absolutely needed) to stand ready to witness the birth of the God-Child.
Now, aching with this strange homesickness in the middle of the night, I remembered how satisfied I felt building this manger. Building a home for love to be witnessed.
I felt comforted by the thought that one day, if not I then God may forgive/embrace some of my own stubborn inner characteristics of Bull and Donkey (and perhaps the elephant in the room too), and as the ultimate demonstration of the victory and power of Love, find it suitable to be born in the wild, imperfect and messy manger of my own being and heart.
Love can be born in the most unlikely of places. Could my highest aspiration in life be:
to become a manger?
(and definitely not a manager as my spellcheck keeps insisting!)
To become a manger, a vessel for love... this was a joyful thought. I spent the rest of the night contemplating how we storytellers can become such containers so that each and every story we tell becomes a love story and the telling itself, a sacrament of love in action.
Is it possible for the testing story of these harsh and challenging times - to transform through how we hold and carry it to - a love story?
My spontaneous solstice vigil came to an end with the golden honey light of dawn in my window and words from a play I once performed. I shall leave you for now with these words, as a blessing, and perhaps a calling of inspiration for us all for the New Year.
The human heart can go the lengths of God…
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake…
But will you wake, for pity’s sake?
from A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry
I wish you a New Year filled with creative longing and love.
To read more musings visit : www.roigalor.com/musings-1