Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Garden Story--Part Two: A Gentle Plea for Chaos (Rosh Hashanah Morning)

From the moment we met, he spoke more than he listened.  He was nervous, and considering how long he’d lived alone, I couldn’t really blame him for his lack of social skills. Still, he just went on and on about how neatly he had named and ordered everything, before he’d even introduced himself or asked how I was feeling.  Mind you, I wasn’t ungrateful for what he’d done—I know all that arranging was hard work.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.   On this Rosh Hashanah morning, when we celebrate creation, I’d like to tell you my story, which is also his—and yours.  Consider it a gentle plea for chaos.

When we first met, he seemed truly happy to see me.  I could tell how lonely he’d been, how grateful he was for my company.  And I, newly born, had so many questions for him—about that marvelous garden that was to be our home, its myriad strange and lovely inhabitants, and the Creator that made us, who he called Yah.  But Adam didn’t have time for any of that—or so he told me as he labeled everything in sight.

He was so dead set on the task at hand, so intent and serious—while to me, the whole endeavor felt. .  . arbitrary.  In an effort to make conversation, I’d ask: “Adam, what do you call this and this and that?”  Irritated by the interruption, he’d reply curtly: “Evven.  Orev.  Shemesh.”  Silently I wondered: Why?  Why not stone?  Raven?  Sun?  Or piedra.  Cuervo.  Sol.  Or, more to my liking, heavy-silence and dark laughter and gold-that-warms-my-face?

All those names of his!  So capricious, and worse—such abstractions, like pale shadows of the tangible things they purported to name. While he was categorizing everything into order, genus and species, I wanted to learn the stories of this gnarled oak, that fox running through the undergrowth, this crimson-mottled rose growing along the riverbanks.  I realized that for me, knowing happened in relationship—as I experienced and connected with particular places and things.

That’s how it went for us, too—at least at first.  In the beginning, I think he liked the idea of me more than my company in the flesh and blood.  He enjoyed the concept of my companionship, but hadn’t a clue what to make of who I really was.  So when he named me Ishah—woman—I resisted, refusing to settle for the generic.  “Look at me, I insisted, “and call me Chava.  I am a person, not a gender, and I will be the author of my own embodied life.”

I couldn’t tolerate the way Adam’s names and orders separated us from the rest of creation I so dearly longed to be a part of.  Maybe some of this was biology; without the pull of moon or womb, milk or menopause, he was more inclined to separate himself from everything else, to imagine himself like Yah, to forget that he was made of clay.  Whatever the reason, while he was busy apportioning the garden, I was determined to push the boundaries.  To connect.  To occupy the liminal spaces where borders blurred and I felt most alive.   As he cleaned up, I embraced messes.    While he sorted everything by time and season, dividing between light and dark, holy and profane, I sought to love and hate and laugh and cry, to arrange and confuse, forgive and remember and forget—all at once.  I sought out the magical, mystical, mixed up places that had safely escaped the Great Separations: dawn and dusk and fog, marshes and mudflats.  On occasion, I, too, made use of walls; like Adam, I sometimes cherished a room of my own.  But even then, always I wanted it with windows flung open to the wild and entangled world.

“Adam,” I pleaded, “your binaries are for math, not life. Some things—the best and most important things—don’t fit neatly into boxes.  They lay claim to multitudes of names, bestowed by nature and nurture, accident and fate—and refuse in earnest to be defined by any of them.  Those names are not the end of knowing but its beginning.  Knowing another is endless; the thing to be known grows with the knowing.   Look closer at the rivers you have used to mark this marvelous place.   Where you see borders, I find confluences, the mingling of life-sustaining waters.  See how the stream loves chaos, how it loops and meanders, never running straight.  I would like to walk those winding riverbanks with you, using our speech to make connections. Let’s explore this garden side by side. We can celebrate its wildness, listen to its stories, and create our own, together.

To his credit, he heard me out.  But even as I spoke, I could feel his growing agitation.  He resisted my invitation with argument, and then lashed out: “I am doing Yah’s will,” he barked, “and so should you!”

I have never felt so lonely as I did in that moment. Part of me wanted to just let it go, to appease him in his anger.  But I was not born to submit.  Yah created me to be ezer k’negdo, a partner to lovingly challenging him.  I was stunned—too flustered to help him, too proud to acquiesce—and so I turned away.

I walked alone, upstream, until I made it back to the rivers’ source at the center of the garden.  There I took refuge beneath the enormous tree that he’d so adamantly insisted I avoid.  I sat, silent and solitary, for what seemed a very long time, until I slept.

When I awoke, the sun was gone.  Everything was black.  My first night had fallen, and all that I’d experienced during the day was unrecognizable, shrouded in shadows. As my eyes slowly adjusted, I glimpsed the heavenly hosts sprayed across the sky, but their light, though shimmering, made me feel small and cold and afraid.   I shivered. The night went on and on. The stars wheeled overhead. I wept.

Then, in that hour of deepest darkness, something shifted in me.  I began to feel for Adam—to feel with him. With tears flooding my broken heart, it dawned on me that his impulse to control creation’s wildness was not born of arrogance or contempt, as I had thought.  I realized we were more alike than I’d imagined—that he, too, was terrified.

I wept and waited that first night, exposed and lonely—as he must have so often been before I was born.  In my fear, the desire to name and contain my surroundings gripped me, too. Adam’s ardor for order offered the illusion of control, and when my vulnerability felt too much to bear alone, it dearly tempted me.

So I sat, torn between fear and delusion, when Yah finally spoke to me.  Like my partner, I first heard the call through the sound of my own breath: a rhythm, a release, a soft melody swelling through the night.

I form light and create darkness;
I make peace and chaos, too.

Surrender and take comfort, knowing you are dust and ashes.

Let there be wildness, within and without.

Breathing in.  Breathing out. 
Yah’s voice brought the solace of surrender.  My fear did not disappear, but alongside it, I felt a rush of courage and consolation that lifted my spirits. A warm presence enveloped me—it was Yah and then, seamlessly—miraculously—it was Adam, too, returned to me through the long night.  He wrapped his arms around me, embraced me, kissed me for the first time.  His cheek felt hot and wet against mine.  He’d been crying, too.

“Chava,” he said, “I’m sorry.”

“Adam,” I said, “I’m sorry, too.”

We sat together holding hands, weeping and laughing and sharing our stories until the sun peaked out of the east.

And so, my children, in the end, my gentle plea for chaos turns out to be a love song after all—the world’s first love song. 


And mine. 

And yours.

Perhaps that is what we celebrate most on Rosh Hashanah, this day when we are all born anew. 

Today we fall in love, again, with creation and its grandeur—even if it doesn’t always love us back. 

We use our halting language and mortal words to fall in love, again, with one another—our communities and friends and families, our parents and children and partners.  We fall in love again, despite our fear, knowing full well that pain and heartbreak will inevitably follow.

We fall in love again with Yah, who remains both deeply intimate and utterly inscrutable.

Yes, as my husband reminded you last night, this is a season to make accountings.  We recall our failings.  We name and number our mitzvahs and misdeeds in the ledger of the year gone by.  But beyond all that, I believe that the reason we really come to shul on this New Year’s Day is so that we might learn, together, to love what we would otherwise, naturally fear: our own human frailty.

Avinu malkeinu, we plead, chanaynu v’anaynu, ki ayn banu ma’asim.
Have mercy on us, show us your grace—for we are nothing before You.

We come here, with compassion for ourselves and one another, to acknowledge our vulnerability, to hold and nurture and love each other, and in so doing, face down the fear together.

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate creation by consoling and comforting one another.

Just as Adam and I did, at the end of the world’s first night in Eden. . . at least until the new day broke, when I turned to him, and said, “Now, about that tree. . .”


a gentle plea for chaos: I’ve taken this phrase from the title of Mirabel Osler’s book A Gentle Plea for Chaos: The Enchantment of Gardening.  In its words and pictures she makes an argument for a garden aesthetic that leaves room for significant wildness.  She also connects the issue of chaos/wildness with gender:
There is an antiseptic tidiness that characterizes a well-controlled gardener.  And I’d go further and say that usually the gardener is male.  Men seem more obsessed with order in the garden than women. . .

So when I make a plea for havoc, what would be lost?  Merely the pristine appearance of a garden kept highly manicured, which could be squandered for amiable disorder.  Just in some places.  Just to give a pull at our primeval senses.  A mild desire for amorphous confusion which will gently infiltrate and, given time, will one day set the garden singing.

I could only connect with particular things: As Franciscan friar Richard Rohr notes: All things are endowed with “this-ness.”  A personal, unique God makes a personal, unique creation.

moon or womb, milk or menopause: from Pitzele, Our Father’s Wells

I sought to love and hate and laugh and cry: from Yehudah Amichai’s wonderful poem playing on Ecclesiastes, “A Man in His Time”:

A man doesn't have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn't have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn't have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

mystical, mixed up places that had safely escaped the Great Separations: from Kathleen Dean Moore’s collection of essays on ecology and place, The Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World

for math, not life: as taught to me at the Hartman Institute by a young Israeli teacher of kabbalah, Biti Roi

multitudes of names, bestowed by nature and nurture, accident and fate: from the oft-quoted poem by the 20th century Israeli poet Zelda:

Everyone Has a Name

Everyone has a name
given to him by God
and given to him by his parents
Everyone has a name
given to him by his stature
and the way he smiles
and given to him by his clothing
Everyone has a name
given to him by the mountains
and given to him by his walls
Everyone has a name
given to him by the stars
and given to him by his neighbors
Everyone has a name
given to him by his sins
and given to him by his longing
Everyone has a name
given to him by his enemies
and given to him by his love
Everyone has a name
given to him by his feasts
and given to him by his work
Everyone has a name
given to him by the seasons
and given to him by his blindness
Everyone has a name
given to him by the sea and
given to him
by his death.

See how the stream loves chaos: Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden

ezer k’negdo, a true partner: often mistranslated as helpmate, with the implication that she is subordinate to Adam.  To the contrary, quite literally, the term translates as “helper who is opposite or against him.”

 I form light and create darkness: see Isaiah 45:7.  I believe that rah, which is often translated as “evil” is better represented as “chaos”—the opposite of shalom, which, here, implies order and harmony.

Let there be wildness: playing on both Thoreau’s famous quote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world ” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Inversnaid”:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

No comments: