Why Black Lives Matter…

Divine Law states: “Do not carve for yourself a graven image…nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or the water beneath the earth.” The essential meaning is clear to the Kabbalist: do not turn things of this world into a god!

We do this all the time, both literally and metaphorically, in the form of statues and paintings, by naming awards, buildings, streets, anything we like, after our good and great. We project our hero-worship onto these figures, before eventually forgetting about them; or, worse, discovering they are not the heroes we thought they were, and tearing them down.

We have seen this recently with the statue of Edward Colston – a politician who made part of his fortune through the slave trade, later bequeathing it for the benefit of the sick and needy, albeit those who shared his political and religious convictions. We see it also in the campaign to pull down the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a nineteenth century politician whose activities in southern Africa have won him admiration and revulsion in seemingly equal measure. At his funeral, men from the Ndebele tribe gave the “Bayethe”, or Royal Salute, and wept over his grave. Yet he was responsible for the appalling massacre of large numbers of Black Africans, whom he believed were racially inferior.

Perhaps this demonstrates why such a Divine Law exists. No human being is either all good or all bad. Shakespeare writes (albeit ironically) that “The evil that men do lives after them/ The good is oft interred with their bones”. Perhaps we put up statues to convince ourselves that this is not true.

Seen in terms of the Tree of Life and Jacob’s Ladder, the law regarding graven images functions on the upper face of Yetsirah, which overlaps Beriah, the world of archetypes. The activities of men like Colston and Rhodes belong very firmly in the lower face of Yetsirah; the world of money and tribalism. In spiritual terms, politics is always a low-level activity; and anything that ends with an -ism is politics. This includes every religion, every dearly held belief; it even includes the Black Lives Matter movement. And if that statement is hard to swallow, consider that we also turn political movements into graven images, gods that cannot, must not, be criticised.

To understand this, consider another recent story in the news. Marcus Rashford, a 22-year old professional footballer and, as such, a person well-known to the British public, took up the cause of financially disadvantaged children. Having raised £20 million, he eventually persuaded the government to spend a further £120 million to continue providing free school meals for them during the summer holidays. Within days of the announcement, politicians of every hue were claiming Rashford as their own, even those in government whom he had, arguably, shamed into action.

In terms of the Tree, Rashford was inspired by something higher than himself. His aim was not political; he did did not seek power or fame, he already had these things, and he used them for a greater good. A young man who, as a child, had experienced hunger, played his part in preventing others from experiencing the same.

What struck me about him was the calm, mature manner with which he conducted himself. There was no shouting, name-calling, threats, accusations, just a clear and intelligently stated intention. A single, beneficent purpose, to feed children. There were no statues to pull down, because he was not attacking a system but pursuing a specific outcome. Working from Tiferet and the upper face of Yetsirah, he channelled the lower face of Beriah, thereby transcending the political and tribal conflict of the lower face world of politics. The fact that he is Black was never mentioned.

I am glad the statue of Colston is no longer on its pedestal, and I would like to see all but one statue of Cecil Rhodes removed. There are two reasons for this: first is that they unnecessarily cause offence to others, and secondly that neither of these flawed men holds any real status in the bigger scheme of life. The best reason to pull down a statue is because it no longer matters. Rhodes has no power now, except as an archetype, which is kept alive as much by those who hate him as those who like him. If you project your hatred onto a graven image, you give power to what it represents.

The killing of George Floyd that filled our TV screens for a week was a shocking example of tribal conflict and systemic racism, not only in America but world-wide. How many times has this happened, not just in America but everywhere. I do not doubt that the souls, who this time were George Floyd and his killer, in some previous life played out that same event the other way round. Victim becomes persecutor becomes victim, an endless cycle of violence, hatred and stupidity.

Until we recognise that every human being is part of Adam Kadmon, made in the image of the Divine, these cycles will continue. When I hurt my neighbour, I hurt myself. So I have come to see that I am George Floyd, but I am also the policeman with his knee on another man’s neck.

A momentary buzz of power, pulling down a statue, burning a flag, killing a man, does not change the reality of our lives. Far better to consign the attitudes they represent to the past and to create a reality within ourselves in which every human being, indeed all life, not only matters, but is acknowledged as sacred.

A little bit of me would like to see the bust of Cecil Rhodes at the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town left in place. Look it up, it’s the one with the broken nose. For me it signifies most powerfully an archetype that transcends the politics, rather like Shelley’s Ozymandias. The broken nose is a wonderful symbol of how the mighty fall. Take away the oppressor’s power and he is harmless. Pull down a statue and all you will do is put up another in its place. It does not free the one who pulls it down, because it doesn’t change the past, or what we hold within.

To fulfil the law concerning graven images, we must remember the law that precedes it: I am YVHV your God, before me you shall have no other gods. Hear Oh Pilgrim, there is one God in Heaven and Earth; and no statue, or protest movement, can take God’s place.

Coronavirus and Kabbalah: A Letter to my Six-Year Old Godson (Part One)

My Dearest Asher

By the time you are ready to read this, the circumstances in which I am writing will be history. We will probably have a cure or even a vaccine to cope with Covid19. Or perhaps you are living in a different world, in which such a disease is taken as a normal part of life. This would not be new. Until relatively recently our forebears lived with the constant risk of death from diseases that could not be controlled, be it tuberculosis (usually referred to as consumption) or pneumonia, once called the old man’s friend because it ended the lives of those who were ready to die. In Medieval times it was the Black Death – bubonic plague, carried by fleas that lived on rats, days when people knew nothing of microorganisms and the nature of disease.

For those watching the signs, the coronavirus came as no surprise. In the years leading up to the covid19 pandemic we had seen several potential pandemics come and go. Foot and Mouth, Mad Cow disease, Avian flu and Ebola, the last of these coming closest. Actually Ebola was not new and, although research will tell you that it was a recent occurrence, a friend of mine who was a frequent visitor to Sierra Leone had different ideas. Outbreaks of killer diseases, he said, happened with relative frequency in that part of the world. Someone in a village would catch it, it would spread, and in a short space of time the entire village would be dead. It tended not spread beyond the village because travel between villages was slow. The difference in 2014 was that people were able to travel more quickly and greater distances, including globally, making containing the disease more difficult. Whatever the truth about Ebola, it should have been a warning.

But a warning of what? To find an answer, we must understand the nature of plague.

And to do so, let’s first avoid emotive language. Covid19 is not the enemy, nor is it a destroyer or, worse, a punishment from God! It is a microbial organism that has its natural place within our planet’s ecosystem. Its purpose, like all organisms, including the human body, is to survive and reproduce. Compared to other similar organisms it is not especially efficient; many microbial organisms adapt far more effectively, which is why scientists are confident in their aim to control it.

Note I do not say, beat it: this is not a war. Only humans fight wars, creatures protect themselves and their territory, instinctively sustaining themselves and their species. Humans use that as an excuse, but all war emerges from an unwillingness to rise above animal instinct and acknowledge the rights and entitlements of the other. So let’s be clear, at the purely physical level the coronavirus has as much right to exist as we do, and we in turn have every right to protect ourselves from its worst effects. That is not the same as seeing it as “the enemy”.

Secondly, let’s acknowledge that human beings are not natural creatures! Our true nature belongs not to the physical world of Assiyah but the Inner Worlds; our origin is in the Divine World of Atzilut, cells in the body of Adam Kadmon, descending in stages through the airy World of Creation (Beriah) into the watery World of Formation (Yetsirah) where we individuate from collective Spirit to individual Soul. When I incarnate into this body, which you see with your physical eyes, I enter physical nature and my body is subject to its laws. My soul, however, is subject to much higher laws that I will call Divine Law. Like us, this has its origins in Atzilut and it is this that we must live by, even when our ego, our lesser, Yesodic self, tries to tell us otherwise. Yesod does not know what is true and what is not, it is a place of images and illusions, hence its association with the commandment “Thou shall not bear false witness”. True witness happens in the soul, in its seat at Tiferet. This is illustrated by its central place on the Tree of Life.

Thirdly, let’s look at the popular name of covid19 – coronavirus: what a telling piece of information! A corona is the gaseous part of a sun or star: a luminous haze that surrounds a celestial body like a halo! In other words the very name of this “plague” reminds us to look to our Higher Self. Look at any pictorial representation of a saint in Western art and you will see a corona in the form of a circle of light, a golden halo. Could the message be clearer? Our attention is being drawn to the Divine nature of what we now face, as a warning AND OPPORTUNITY, from those Higher Worlds that are our true home.

So, as you read this, consider what opportunities this has provided, and whether humankind has addressed the opportunities that covid19, lockdown and all the challenges that go with it, have provided. Or have we, once again, “squandered (our) resistance for a pocketful of mumbles”¹, placed our comforts before care, turned our golden halo into a golden calf?

I have much more to say on this topic, but for now that’s enough for your young mind to take in. My teacher, an old and eminent Kabbalist known as Zev ben Shimon Halevi, has described this world as a kindergarten, our purpose as human beings to grow to a spiritual adulthood. I hope I have shown you here, in the first part of this letter, that covid19, coronavirus, is not our enemy, but a gift from the Holy ONE, sent to teach us how to be truly Divine.

 

 

 

¹Paul Simon “The Boxer” (1969)

Coronavirus and Kabbalah: A Letter to Stel…

This blog is a letter I wrote this week to a young friend and student of Kabbalah in answer to a question he asked about the current international situation. With his permission, I am publishing the letter here, only slightly edited.

*         *         *          *

My dear young friend,

First of all, well done! You have seen what belongs to Yesod and what belongs to Hod. Let them get on with it! You have also risen to Tiferet, by observing the world, distancing yourself from what is purely instinctive, and making your own choice about how to respond. A good start!

I have so far resisted writing a blog about coronavirus and its implications, on the basis that there is a danger of becoming too apocalyptic! However, I would place it at Tiferet on the Tree, largely for the reasons you have given: the collective madness, selfishness, uncontrolled panic; but also because it resembles the Biblical fifth plague.

It is by definition a pestilence, albeit one that is causing the death of people rather than cattle. It is worth remembering that, in Biblical times, cattle represented wealth (and therefore power) and how the current crisis already has profound implications for our economic stability. Today, wealth is a more abstract thing and coronavirus is a pestilence that is reflective of modern times.

(I remember the last outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease and Mad Cow Disease. We learnt some very important lessons from both. I heard the Mayor of Manchester talking on TV only the other day about the FMD outbreak and what he learnt from his own mistakes as a minister at the time. We have been on the edge of a major crisis on this scale for a long time.)

Beyond that I can only speculate. Is it significant that the disease came from China, ironically the biggest capitalist country in the world, which exploits its own people for economic gain, endorsed and supported by us in the West? Note how much we import, just in terms of manufactured goods, from China and the East, because it’s cheaper to make it there than here – isn’t that a kind of slavery from which we benefit?

So I have to agree with you about this epidemic balancing things out. Your observations about the misuse of freedom make a lot of sense. Moreover, our population is growing dramatically, we worry about living longer, without considering what we are living for; here is another disease attacking our overpopulated world, and encouraging us to question our values.

But so far all of this comes from Hod! The real question is our responsibility, and I am pleased that in your email you recognised the necessity of being responsible. A while back, you called on the Universe to take you forward in the Work, it replied by making you a father! Now you are taking adult responsibility, which means observing how you conduct yourself through this crisis.

We cannot singlehandedly change the world but we can play our part, behave in a way that is worthy of the faith the Holy One has placed in us by giving us reason and means to live in accordance with Divine Law. This is our daily bread. My own insight is that this is a necessary process, part of a bigger, unfolding plan. One that must be played out because of the choices we have collectively made.

Be clear, I do not mean it is some sort of punishment! To view this crisis in those terms would be childish. But it is a challenge, which for the Kabbalist means being receptive, the eyes and ears, and (when called upon) the hands of God. How we act as human beings determines what happens to us next. Karma, like its agent the coronavirus, is entirely objective.

You have a family, so you must do what is needed to ensure that they are safe and healthy. You are also part of the wider family that is humanity, and through your actions, meditations, prayers, you can play your part as we navigate our way through these challenging times.

Your challenge is to live up to your name – which means “pillar”. Be a pillar of strength to your wife and child, to your wider family and to anyone you encounter along the way. You have Knowledge (Da’at) and the means to connect with the Divine, and that makes you useful to the Companions of the Light. It makes you different and enables you to make a difference, however big or small.

At the same time be compassionate; as you observe people behaving foolishly out of fear, try not to judge them. We are none of us in a position to cast the first stone! Live up to your potential as a spiritual pilgrim and a human being. Remember your Divine origin and, when in doubt, listen within. You have the Light of God within you.

With all blessings and love to you and your family.

A Narrative of Daily Life … and Avoiding Misplaced Loyalty!

This blog comes with a public health warning. You may not like what you’re about to read. So if you have a particular evangelical feeling – for or against – about any of the following, turn to another blog. They are: Environmentalism, Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg, Veganism, Brexit (for or against!), religion (any of them, for or against) or any other political fervour gripping our world.

Politics functions on the lower face of the Tree of Life. It is of the world. The spiritual pilgrim aims to be in the world but not of it. That means, however strongly you feel about any of the world’s isms, to be a Kabbalist (or for that matter a student of any spiritual tradition) you must rise above worldly preoccupations. It does not mean being politically apathetic but to be interested and aware of what is going on without getting caught up in political notions of right and wrong, or right and left, or good and bad.

To put this into context, I’d like to consider for a paragraph or two, the story of Joseph in the Hebrew Testament. Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph, a dreamer himself, finds himself after a some years of hardship interpreting the dreams of the Pharaoh and becoming the First Minister of Egypt. He is charged with responsibility for the economic well-being of the nation and, in the long term, of that whole part of the world.
Symbolically he represents a paradigm of Yesod, and how a disciplined and contained ego-mind can serve the best interests of the soul, represented in this story by those who come to rely on Egypt during the years of famine.

Politically we have been through years of plenty and famine, just like those characters in the Bible. Also like them, we are seeing wealth concentrated into fewer hands and an increase in economic dependence. There are now more food banks than ever before in Britain, at a time when there is also an increasing number of billionaires. Every year The Times newspaper publishes a list of the most wealthy people, turning their rising and declining fortunes (literally) into a kind of narrative game. Do I care who is in the top 100 of richest people? Is success and status really to be measured economically and financially? And is the aim of the feminist movement really as trivial as seeing more women entering this list? (Remember what I said at the start, if you’re evangelical about any of the world’s isms, look away!)

Recently Donald Trump was criticised for referring to ‘prophets of doom’ over climate change. Greta Thunberg was in the audience. Her face is probably now as well-known from so much media coverage as President Trump’s! I suspect most people who have got this far through this blog are more likely to be pro- Greta and anti-Trump. I am neither pro- nor anti- either of them. Why?

The prevailing political system in the West is Democracy. Whatever his faults may be, Trump was democratically elected. Either you want to live in a democracy or you don’t! Greta Thunberg is an extraordinary young woman but, however smart she may be, she is not a qualified expert on climate change. Most people her age are expected to be in school doing their homework. Greta is travelling the globe as a figurehead for a political lobby. When she loses her youthful appeal she will disappear.

Until we see that both of these people represent points of view that are part of the worldly passing show, we will merely be caught up in an intellectual game of tennis, trying to prove how, because we are right, the other one must be wrong. That’s how religion works: my religion says you can only go to heaven if…, so if your religion doesn’t agree with that, you must be destined for hell. Really???

Politics has its fashions like anything else that functions out of Yesod. In the biblical story, Joseph had a specific job to do, at a specific time. Greta Thunberg proved a valuable counterfoil to Donald Trump, but that doesn’t make her right. Or wrong. In a recent court case it was ruled that ethical veganism should be treated as a belief system and a man purportedly sacked from his job for his vegan beliefs was a victim of discrimination. Veganism is currently very much in vogue and has attached to it ideas about ethical behaviour, environmental well-being and healthy living. Yet MacDonalds and Burger King will still want to sell fast food, even if it has to be vegan. This means the mass production of soya, or pea, or other plant-based protein, which in turn opens the door to genetically modified crops, the patents owned by powerful corporations such as Monsanto. Much vegan food is made using chemical additives and much of the base product, soya for example, is a monocrop that destroys biodiversity. In other words, it creates different ethical, moral and political concerns.

All of this is of the world. It happens in the lower face of the Tree, the realm of politics and materialism. There is nothing right or wrong about veganism, or the consumption of meat or animal products. It is a choice we make as individuals. We need to take care of the planet we live on, but in a way that honours it, and ourselves and each other, without prejudgement.

Good and bad karma, only one level above worldliness, is rooted in intention and care for others and ourselves: honouring the earth (“thy father and thy mother”) and maintaining spiritual intention (“Remember the Sabbath to keep it Holy”) by separating out that which reflects Divine Law from that which does not. To claim that one point of view is right and another is wrong, at the level of the political, and claiming a monopoly of truth, we carve a graven image, and use the Divine Name in vain.

So, I am not an environmentalist, though I believe we should honour the Divine Mother/Father; I am not a Feminist, but I firmly believe that the Holy One created men and women as equals; I am not concerned about Brexiteers (or Remainers!), Boris Johnson, or Donald Trump, or even Great Thunberg, because they are simply actors on the stage of life, part of the passing show that is the everyday world. And I try to practise my belief within my own sphere of influence, doing my best not to do to others that which I would find hateful were it done to me.

Divine Law is clear. When you stand before the One Eternal God, the gods of politics, materialism and the world at large (whatever form they may take) dissolve into nothing. To paraphrase the words of a famous Kabbalistic prayer:
Hear, O spiritual pilgrim, The Holy One is Eternal. Eternal and One.

 

Only the Beginning…

A final Christmas blog! Final, for this year, because we’ve all had enough of it…? Yet surely Christmas is a beginning, not an end? Yes, it’s a culmination of a lot of preparation, a lot of present buying, planning for the day, the meal, the drink, the “gathering”. Certainly it’s the coming together of all the things that make Christmas what it actually isn’t…a spend-fest of materialism, gluttony and acquisitiveness.

Actually, I would like to suggest that it is less a culmination than a beginning. It is a nativity, a birth, potentially, of a new, spiritual year, as symbolised by the birth-incarnation of Jesus as the Christ. What follows is a return to light, breaking through the darkest days of winter as we turn, in the northern hemisphere at least, toward the coming Spring.

That’s why this date in December was decided on. It coincides approximately with the winter solstice and the Jewish festival of lights, Chanukah. The longest night of the year and the darkest night of the year; the longest night with no moon.

I recently came across a reading of the Christmas saga as a Cosmic Tale by an extraordinary man called Mitch Gainey. I’m reproducing it here in full, as it appeared on Facebook:

“I like to think of the whole Christmas story as a cosmic tale;
Mary = the pure, willing subconscious mind. The Womb of Creation.
Joseph = The conscious mind; the personality.
Shepherds = Natural and created world.
Wise Men/Magi = spiritual perception/awareness
Angels = Intuition.
Herod = Empire, oppression, political consciousness. The collective shadow.
Jesus = Embodied Creativity, Divinity manifested in (Hu)Man, New Creation.”

This wise interpretation encouraged me to place the characters of the story on the Tree of Life. What follows is my view of this Cosmic Tale, seen in Kabbalistic terms.

The personalities are represented on the central column, while the side pillars represent the archetypes: the transpersonal, personal and instinctive levels all acting on the Creative process as the Divine presence enters this world.

Christmas Tree

Mary (at Tiferet) is the chalice that receives the Holy Spirit/Christ Child, as the “Womb of creation”. The Christ Jesus incarnates, supported from the side pillars by the angelic hosts, and greeted by the Magi, who represent those among us who are already spiritually present. It is worth bearing in mind that these three “kings”, led by a star (which may symbolise astrology or, more generally, any true spiritual tradition) have travelled many miles to this humble manger. Yet the people right nearby at the local inn have no clue what’s going on!

Joseph, like his biblical namesake, represents the ideal Yesod. Kabbalists often see Yesod (ego) in negative terms, but it is vital if we are to survive in this physical world. In protecting Mary in her vulnerable state, Joseph represents Yesod as a properly functioning and true servant.

These two together bring Jesus into the world, bringing Keter into Malkhut, and will guide him to adulthood, full spiritual awareness.

Herod represents worldly aspirations, and the fear of annihilation that the body (and, indeed, the fragmented ego) fear most. He is the worldly king, shadow to the now embodied Divine King.

Let’s try to understand Herod, before we condemn. He is the king of the material world and he knows of nothing beyond it. Although born to a Jewish faith, and surrounded by Roman symbols of divinity, for him God is more concept than reality. This is true of most people, even those who regard themselves as religious. For Herod, anything new, especially a newly born “king”, is a threat to his peace of mind and his worldly status. As Michael Gainey points out, Herod represents the collective shadow, which will always try to destroy what it fears.

Finally Jesus, the embodied and transcendent Divine, symbolised in the form of a baby, representing the potential in all of us to embody Christ-consciousness in our lives.

Christmas is a beginning. It is the birth of a new day, year, life, in which the Divine can enter the world more fully, held by a universe of support. Just as the Angelic hosts heralded the birth of the Christ Child, so they are there for each of us to call on anytime. The Magi might take all sorts of forms for each of us: the right person who appears for us just when we need them. They bring us the gold, frankincense and myrrh that symbolise the prosperity that is always available when we call for it. And the shepherds’ patient waiting and watching over it all is instinctively present within each of us, guiding us day to day.

So, may this year bring us closer to our Divine Self, the Christ within, and may we come closer to knowing with confidence that The Resurrection and the Life is within us all.

 

 

This Round World!

At about the age of 24, I discovered that the world is round. That if you began walking, no matter what direction you chose (and even though there would be many obstacles along the way to be crossed over, circumvented, passed through) you would end up back where you started.

As I began to explore this discovery, increasingly I realised that, having begun walking, these obstacles meant that, when you arrived back at your starting point, you would be a different person from the one who had originally set off. That if you had set off in a different direction, the journey would be equally challenging but no less instructive. The choice of direction chosen would reflect not only your inner nature but your cultural and family background. That part of the excitement of life is deciding which way you want to go.

Later I discovered that karma too plays a part, no matter who you are.

In life, we find ourselves in a particular place and time, and we set off on a journey. We meet obstacles along the way – mountains to climb, rivers to cross, other natural phenomenon. We encounter the products of our human society – buildings and cities and fields of crops. There are times when we are surrounded by people. Perhaps for a time we journey with a companion or companions. At other times we are alone.

There are times along the way when things go well. We pass through warm meadows, fruit laden orchards, towns of friendly faces ready to help, encourage and feed us. Often the journey is a struggle, to survive we must fight – the elements, other people, even ourselves. For a while we might pause, lay our heads down and rest, before beginning again on the path.

Along the way we cross the paths of other travellers, who have started from a different place and who are pursuing their own direction. Some recognise that our journeys are the same, even though our starting point and direction leads us through different obstacles and open spaces. Perhaps, exchanging experiences, we learn from each other about places we will never see ourselves. Hearing about them helps us fill out the picture of the world as we experience it.

We might even set off with someone, or a whole group or people, but find ourselves separating out in order to deal with the same path in our own different ways. Then perhaps we meet again further along and share experiences and mutual support.

Sadly, sometimes we will meet people who prefer to deny the validity of our experience because it does not match theirs, or fit with their perception of the world. Others will try to persuade us to follow their direction, because they believe only they have chosen the ‘true’ path. Others we meet still believe the world is flat and that, by leaving where you are born, you risk falling off the edge of the world.

There will be those who, having set off, keep changing direction whenever difficulties arise, who never climb that mountain or cross that stream, who only seek out the places where they are guaranteed a free meal or a comfortable bed. Perhaps they too will eventually return to their starting point, but their experience will be limited and opportunities for self-development will have been lost.

Some will simply give up along the way. They risk never knowing the richness of returning with a heart full of passion and a memory of lived opportunity. Eventually something will happen that forces them to move on.

I find it comforting to know that living on a round world means that there is never one way of living; and yet everything is connected, all is One. That wherever we travel we return to ourselves. That we can never fall off the edge of the world; because oblivion is only in sitting still and refusing the journey. Death is in not trying, and to live is to accept and explore the diversity of terrain that travelling through life takes us to.

Finally I discovered that this journey takes in many lives. That death is but a sleep along the way, and that in wakening into life I am constantly changing, and yet always myself.
What matters is that each of us, in each life, brings something unique to the journey. How we make our pilgrimage, what we learn along the way and what we share with others, adds to the richness of this world and the next. And that in the mind of the Eternal One we all matter and our journey is a blessing of opportunities that serves a greater reality that is far bigger than our single selves.

As we approach the New Year, may your continuing journey be fruitful, your struggles be surmountable, and may we all find the wisdom to see that, whatever the journey brings, it is all part of the unfolding plan of creation.

The Eternal is One, One Eternal.

Happy New year!

 

The Story of Jonah: Part Two – The Mystical Journey

{Please note: the following has been slightly edited since it was published and those have already read it may wish to revisit.}

We have already seen how Jonah’s story reflects everyday human existence but, like all scripture, it also carries esoteric meaning. What follows is not drawn from a particular tradition but are thoughts on how we might understand the story from a Kabbalistic perspective, and perhaps see a parallel in our own lives as pilgrims on a spiritual path.

Hebrew, the language of the Old (sometimes called the Hebrew) Testament, is subtle and complex in meaning. There are few words compared to most spoken languages, but this is the language of storytelling and analogy. A single word, depending on its context, can carry different, even contradictory meanings.

If we begin with our central character’s name: Yonah ben Amitaii.

Yonah is usually translated as ‘dove’. In Genesis, a yonah brings to Noah the sign that the flood has receded; in Christianity it represents the Holy Spirit. So it may be surprising to note that the root word can also be interpreted as meaning to suppress, oppress or maltreat.

Ben Amitaii: might be ‘son of my truth’!

So Dove, son of my Truth; or Oppressor/Suppressor, son of my Truth?

Let’s explore…

I

Jonah certainly suppresses the truth in himself. A man in direct communication with God runs away rather than face up to his destiny. Symbolically he falls asleep in the belly of a ship, a powerful representation of the state of humanity that have yet to realise their Divine origins. When he finally acknowledges the truth, he must be cast into the deep, where he lives  and prays for redemption in the belly of a fish, a powerful symbol of hell and suffering, and a clear message that even Hell is not final. Later he is oppressed by the heat of the desert, afflicted because of his self-oppression; he cannot face up to the fact that the people of Nineveh have been saved. Would he prefer to see them destroyed? He is after all Yonah (the oppressor).

II

Two of the places mentioned are known to us: Nineveh, ‘the great city’, is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible and indeed its ruins can still be seen in modern day Iraq. The location of Tarshish is less clear but may be Carthage, Spain, or Italy. He is on a cargo ship, so it is probably a trading centre, thus symbolic of worldly materialism, appropriate for Jonah’s worldly fellow passengers but not for a prophet of God. For sure, it is the in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah sets sail from Jaffa, a port on the Mediterranean, another real place.

Thus seen in terms of Jacob’s Ladder, the story begins in the Upper Worlds. Running from God, Jonah descends from the Tiferet of Beriah/Keter of Yetsirah, the place of the Messiah, where incarnate humanity touches the Kingdom of Heaven (Atsilut), and he descends deep into the psychological, watery world of Yetsirah, where he hides, falls asleep and is, inevitably, swallowed up.

In other words, he has sunk from the Keter of Yetsirah to the Malkhut – simultaneously the Tiferet of Assiyah, the physical world. This is reflected in his prayer: You lifted me from the pit (ruination/hell), cries Jonah. He depicts the earth, the physical world, as a prison, ‘its bars closed against me’, and his prayer ascends to ‘your Holy Temple’ (in the upper face of Beriah and lower face of Atsilut). This is a powerful symbol for the travails of the soul that seeks to avoid its destiny. What happens to any of us, when we fail to be true to ourselves, is reflected in Jonah’s suffering.

III

Jonah’s fall echoes that of Adam and Eve. Cast out because of his disobedience, his redemption comes when he acknowledges his error and returns to perform God’s Will, which is of course ultimately the bidding of his own soul. He is Yonah, the Dove, the embodiment of Holy Spirit mediating between God and Humankind. The worm that eats at the heart of the kikayon, the gourd that provides him with shelter in the desert, is a reminder of the insidious nature of evil and the expulsion from Eden.  Unlike Adam and Eve, however, he was an evolved soul who knew better.

*          *          *           *           *         *

The Holy One’s final words in this story express Divine Mercy (Hesed) and Love towards humankind. From a Christian perspective, Jonah might be seen as a reluctant Messiah – he proclaims salvation to the people of Nineveh but he suffers terribly in so doing. However he is left in the wilderness at the end of this story, as if to suggest that his story has only just begun. For the Kabbalist the place of the Messiah is as much a stage in the journey as a concluding point; Jonah has a way to go before he can say ‘It is done’¹. Even the greatest in the Hebrew Testament have their human flaws. Yet Jonah’s story has a wonderful symmetry. He goes from the belly of a ‘great’ fish, to preach in Nineveh, the ‘great’ city. The word in Hebrew for ‘great’ is Gadol, from the same root as ‘Gedulah’, another name for Hesed on the Tree of Life.

Jonah is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, when Jeroboam restores the boundaries of Israel (Gevurah) according to the ‘word … spoken by … Jonah ben Amitaii’. There is no clear chronology, so we don’t know which of Jonah’s stories comes first. Perhaps this other reference in the Books of Kings, despite appearing first in the Bible, is the fulfilment of his destiny. The balancing of Hesed and Gevurah, love and boundaries, in the soul triad of Creation.

Like Jonah we must reflect this balancing in our own souls as we make our own journey across the sea of life. Like Jonah, like the people of Nineveh, like the passengers and crew of that ill-fated ship from Jaffa, we each do it in our own way. By Grace of God, called by the Bat Kol (Divine Voice), and by the longing of our own souls.

 

¹According to John’s Gospel, the last words of Jesus on the Cross.

The Story of Jonah: A Journey of the Soul – Part One

This week sees the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur, literally the Day of Atonement. It concludes a ten day period at the start of the Jewish year, known as the Days of Penitence (Aseret Yemei Teshuva) and during this time it is customary to read the story of Jonah, a seemingly  minor prophet in the Bible whose story describes, at one level the power of repentance, at another the journey facing each of us at the very level of the soul.

Jonah’s story can be summed up simply. He is called upon by God to visit the great city of Nineveh and warn them that they must repent their wickedness, or be destroyed. Instead Jonah boards a ship bound in the opposite direction. A storm hits and Jonah explains it is God’s judgement on him. Reluctantly the passengers and crew cast him overboard and Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. In the fish’s belly he prays for redemption, before being spewed back on shore where he started. He goes to Nineveh, preaches and the people of the city repent and are saved. Furious that he has gone all this way, seemingly for nothing, he sits outside the city in the beating sun. To give him comfort The Holy One designates a gourd to grow and provide shade, but overnight it dies and Jonah grieves for it. “You took pity on the gourd,” says The Holy One, “for which you did not labour; how much more then should I take pity on Nineveh, a great city with more than a 120,000 souls and many animals as well?”

This story can be understood on many levels and  I would recommend reading the full account in the Bible. Meanwhile, let’s consider the implications.

At a literal level, it is a tale about a man who runs away from his destiny, only to find that it catches up with him.

Jonah has as much to learn in this story as the people of Nineveh. We all have our job to do and running from it brings storms and suffering. He might have learnt compassion from fellow passengers on the boat, who pray to their gods for redemption and are reluctant to throw him overboard even knowing their lives depend on it. They are good people, not spiritual – they pray to their gods, not to Godbut humane, sympathetic and caring.

Arriving in Nineveh, Jonah preaches. No easy task, people behaving wickedly, usually don’t like being preached at, but he is successful. The king of Nineveh calls upon his people to repent according to their ability. The text says “Let he who knows how repent”. Another compassionate act; the king expects them to give only what they are capable of giving.

Their repentance is accepted and they are forgiven. But Jonah is displeased, he lacks the ability to forgive, the compassion that he sought for himself in the fish’s belly. Thus the story concludes with Jonah’s lesson, that surely mercy and compassion are  better than anger.

Psychologically this rings true. Jonah is in denial through much of the story, because he lacks the compassion for himself that he should feel for others. His self-destructive mind leads him to run away from the truth; to submit to seemingly certain death when he asks to be thrown overboard; and near the end of the story we are told “he asked for his soul to die”.

“Better is my death than my life,” he says. The Hebrew word used here for soul is “nefesh”, which refers specifically to the animal, or vital soul (not the immortal, or human soul, neshamah.) Again Jonah acts, not from his highest Self, but from an instinctive level. The word nefesh implies a baser level of seeing, one who has knowledge of something greater than himself, but is ruled by personal will, not Divine Will.

One of the most compassionate aspects of the story of Jonah is the recognition that few of us are saints! Jonah is a prophet, who has a direct communication with God. His reluctance to carry out his mission may be foolish, but it is understandable. Few prophets are met with open arms and kind words, and he succumbs to his fears at going to Nineveh. Let’s face up to it: how often when faced with a difficult reality, do we resist and find ourselves running in the opposite direction?

With the exception of the king of Nineveh, the people he preaches to are like most of us, very ordinary. Their wrongdoing comes from lack of knowledge, perhaps karmic immaturity. One hundred and twenty thousand people, we are told, who “don’t know their right hand from their left, and many animals as well.”

I particularly love the humour of this ending. Why should we be told about their “many animals”, other than that these poor folk are really not much brighter than their donkeys and cattle! In truth, when it comes to the work of the soul few of us are! But, like all humanity – and all of nature – we are beloved of God. Compassion is the most Divine of emotions, and, as St Paul points out, without it we are nothing!

In Part 2, the esoteric meaning of the story…

Living Deliberately: Part three – My part in Brexit and how I’m (not) going to change the world…

First an apology to those of you fed up reading about Brexit – I promise this is not a political rant. But let’s be honest, we’re all thinking about it, or trying not to. So how do I look at the shenanigans of the political class as a Kabbalist without losing my mind?

One way is to look at the Soul Triad and the principles involved, in particular the balance of Hesed and Gevurah. Politics functions at the lower face of Yezirah and I am affected by the collective only to the degree that my decisions are ruled by Yesod. The Soul sits above this, looking on.

To observe politics with detachment requires discrimination, which means identifying what is real and life-enhancing, and accepting where my responsibility begins and ends. It’s about knowing when to act and when not to. Recognising boundaries and allowing myself to be contained and grow within them.

Gevurah, literally ‘strength’, sits in opposing balance to Hesed (compassion, or mercy). Gevurah is discipline, fear of God, judgement, the warrior principle. Astrologically it is Mars and in Beriah (the transpersonal World) it is Samael, or Cosmic Evil, the archetype of destruction and constraint.

These principles sound cheerless, but they provide the boundaries needed to maintain order and equilibrium. Discrimination and justice are necessary prerequisites for Self-fulfilment and Self-realisation. Through them we deepen our role in the unfolding of creation.

To understand this Spiritually, we can observe the world of Politics, putting aside our political bias in order to take a transpersonal view. Seen this way, Politics is really no more than a passing show, a prism through which we witness Universal Law in operation. The effects of the choices our politicians make will effect us only in terms of our individual karma.

Like many I’ve been watching the news, as Boris Johnson takes his place as the UK’s Prime Minister. One might regard him as a man without boundaries: he can be quite cavalier in the comments he makes, he has left one marriage to move into a relationship with a new partner, and in general he is known for his bluster and, according to some, buffoonery.

Yet, politically he also demonstrates Gevurah. His approach to Brexit has been to establish his boundaries early on: he has said there will be no backstop, that Britain must leave the EU, and he will accept a ‘no deal’ Brexit if necessary. Nor is he afraid to ruffle feathers. Like it or not, he occupies his place at Tiferet, even if he sometimes allows Yesod a little too much leeway.

Seen this way, Mr Johnson is an animal man, functioning from the animal triad (Tiferet-Hod-Nezah) with access to Gevurah and Hesed, if he chooses to step fully into his own power. Like all animal people, he seeks worldly power and status, but he exercises control only insofar as his own karma, and the karma of the nation, allows him to. He has become Prime Minister because of his karma and because he has a lesson to learn. Likewise his future will be determined by the choices he is now making, as well as the choices he has made so far.

The relationship of Britain with its European neighbours has a long, essentially tribal, history. Karmically, the British decision to leave the European Union was determined long before the 2016 referendum. Thus whatever happens will simply be Universal Law at work. This is what is currently being played out on the public stage. The role of Samael and Zadkiel, the balancing archangel at Hesed, is to maintain Cosmic balance, and they are both way bigger than Mr Johnson and his government.

The question for the spiritual pilgrim is “what is my part in this?” or even “what is this to me?”

In a way the answer is simple, even if the practicalities are not. Its meaning for each of us lies in whatever challenges, if any, it throws our way. Maybe (like Mr Johnson) our lot will be to participate actively and manage the outcome; maybe we just need to observe, bear (true) witness to the playground mentality of the political world. Gevurah is knowing what belongs to me and what does not; where my job begins, and ends. Always balanced by care and concern for my fellow human beings caught up in the round of everyday living.

We have a tendency (and I certainly speak for myself here!) to externalise our fears and expectations. The whole of Christianity is built on the premise that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He took on the sins of the world so that we all might be saved. But suppose for a moment, Jesus did not die for your sins. Suppose He died to clear His Own karma, doing so publicly in order to demonstrate what is possible if we face up to reality and take personal responsibility?

It’s a big idea. It means our politicians will answer for their actions. If Boris Johnson messes up Brexit (whatever that means!) he will have to answer for it, before parliament, the people, and above all (literally) before God. That is the price of his ambition.

It is equally true for each and every one of us. However Brexit turns out, we will receive what is ours, our daily bread, in whatever form we need it. To blame the government, or religion, parents or neighbours, or even God, for our personal circumstance is to miss the point entirely.

Spiritual work is about taking individual responsibility for our karma, allowing that we sometimes get it wrong and that those things that afflict us in the here and now are the consequences of our own actions. That is living deliberately, consciously facing the world square on, and allowing ourselves to achieve the ultimate goal: to transcend the passing show that is this world (and its politics!) and to engage with our deepest, Divine Self. So that at the end, like Jesus, we too can say: “it is done.”