Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A strange day in January:

     We have certainly been having a strange winter in Wisconsin. Of course, we are so used to hard winters that all this mild weather makes us all ask when is the snow bomb going to drop?
     Today it will be in the high 40s. The sun is shining and the wind is blowing as though it is a late March day. These are the strange days that Wisconsin young people put on shorts and head outside for activities. If the golf course will let people on them (ie if the ground is dry enough) people go and play golf. Me, I just get an urge to go for a walk outside.
     But this morning that urge still hadn't arisen, and I was sitting in my bedroom chair reading a book that I am enamored with, entitled Walking the Bible, by Bruce Feiler. The author and several guides and helpmates endeavor to travel to places in this world, ie in the Middle East that were important in the Bible Old Testament story. I am still early in the book, but so far he has traveled to the foot of Mount Ararat where supposedly Noah's Ark came to rest, to Harran, Turkey where Abraham traveled when he first left the land of Ur. Now the small group is in Israel, well, really the West Bank, having visited Shechem where Abraham first entered Canaan, and now Bethel which plays a large role in Biblical history where among other things, Jacob saw the mythical ladder. Bethel is now a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. So now that city name so often repeated in the Bible is one of the points of great political controversy between the Palestinians and Israel.
    These passages in this book recall some of the feelings that I get when I visit Israel. Because whether Jew or Christian, we know this history, these stories from the distant past (maybe the 2nd millenium BCE). I always find myself thinking about what could have happened on the spot that I am standing in Israel. This is what people mean by talking about the Holy Land. They get a sense of belonging, a sense of ancestry, of connection with God or some higher force when walking this land. Even though I call myself an agnostic, still when ever I have stood on the Mount of Olives and gazed over the old City of Jerusalem, I have a sense of connection. Jerusalem has been a Capitol of humanity for 5000 years. You can't help but feel this history. And of course the strength of your religion adds an additional measure to this mix of feelings. I will keep you updated as my reading continues in this book.
     As I am sitting in this chair in my bedroom, as I often do since we live on Lake Michigan, I glance up at the lake. I have been hearing the geese this morning. There is a huge flock of maybe 60-70 birds that has been flying noisily over our house again and again. Now I get up and go to the window to figure out what is going on.  This flock is again flying out over the lake, heading to shore for the third time. They can't seem to decide where they want to go. It is windy and maybe that is making the leaders veer off course or have trouble deciding where to land to rest. Or perhaps the warm temperature has stirred something in their brains and is urging them to go north or south or somewhere else. Perhaps they feel a stirring like spring, an urge to get somewhere and start their yearly nesting cycle. Whatever is going on in their group mind, it is not what normally happens in January. These are of course Canada geese of the giant race which do not migrate but just move around to find open water. But on a normal January day, even this race of geese is hunkered down on some open water somewhere with their heads tucked under their wing trying to retain some body warmth. Not so on this January day.
     As I am watching the geese, I look upward and see the contrails of two jets outlined against the cirrus clouds above them. These are not the trails of commercial airlines, flat and steady. These are the courses of perhaps military jets. One is climbing acutely to the northwest, higher in the sky than the other, which is climbing sharply to the southwest. As they climb, their jet trails cross at a right angle and form a gigantic X in the sky. I watch the contrails for a while as they slowly widen and gradually disappear in the white of the clouds above them. X marks the spot -- the spot of what? It raises the question of why we humans of the Western world look up when we think of God -- we think of a personified deity in some heaven up there somewhere. Yet when we pray, we usually bow our head and close our eyes. We talk to that personified God by closing in on ourselves. Some people I suppose would say this posture is to show humility before our God and to represent prostrating ourselves before Him/Her. But I think the prayer posture is an attempt to look inward where some people feel we can really find God.
      So where am I going with this? How do flocks of confused geese and jets making an X with their contrails, how I feel when I am in Israel, and when I am reading a book about places that are Biblical all combine to produce this feeling of exultation. Well, there is one very simple explanation. There is one way to exist in both humility, looking inside ourselves and in exultation looking at the whole wide world outside ourselves, seeing that these "places" are all one.  That is --We must live in the moment. We must be open to every glorious moment of living life which is such a gift. Every major religion and every ancient and modern written text of great import such as the Bible, such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, such as the Koran, such as the poems of Rumi, such even as the tales of Gilgamesh and a multitude of others has one major requirement. Jesus taught this, it is a basic belief of Buddhism, the mysticism of Judaism hides this tenet as well.  That is -- to live with awareness -- to try to transcend mundane daily matters and appreciate every moment because every moment is a gift. X marks the spot. It is here, and right now. My wish is for all of you good readers is that you proceed with that knowledge. 

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