I’ve done a lot of cleaning in my days and the interesting thing about this is how focused I remain on the parts that are difficult to scrub. The old stains on the carpet, the persistent scum in the corners of the shower, or the stubborn crust that remains on the edge of a Pyrex dish. I have this incessant urge to restore, redeem, and reclaim the spaces around me. Sometimes the work of my hands distracts me from what is deeply flawed and truly in need of redemption. Me.
The spring is “flooded” with celebrations and opportunities for a spiritual spring cleaning. The heavy rains wash away fears, the colorful tulips breakthrough from the stagnant ground, and new life emerges after the required period of gestation. A gestation we will all participate in, regardless of our practices, or faith. Passover, Exodus, Easter, Nowruz, and Holi remind us of our need for spiritual liberation, redemption, new life. But I am helpless to liberate myself if I remain in the dark, blinded to my own reality, and internal stains.
The Exodus story illuminates my bondage (slavery) to the things I do not have power over, or maybe I’ve just given my power away. I think the subject of freedom is appropriate for this time of year. Freedom only exists if I use it, silence is death, because nothing will change if I don’t call it out. Avivah Zornberg referred to this internal silence as “uncircumcised lips,” mouths that need to be opened, because communication is essential to intimacy with God. I can choose to ignore child abuse, immigration, racism, pollution, rape, oppression, slavery, and acts of terrorism, but like scum in the shower, they remain. I think it is shocking that these are the very same circumstances faced by the Israelites in Egypt, it took human action, along with an act of God, for things to change. God, aroused by human suffering, can be a powerful catalyst in our lives. I think conflict is good if it strengthens my awareness to that which is in need of redemption. Mt. Sinai might be the revolutionary experience I am seeking, but like most things, it can be illusive.
I wonder sometimes what makes me willfully blind? Why do I resist opening myself to God? I am beginning to realize change happens when I call it into being. I can not escape from my “Egypt” if I am unable to envision a new future. It reminds me of the birth of my first child, they had to use forceps, literally pulling the child from my womb. When I think of this in spiritual terms, I realize I’m in need of a forceps delivery, to be pulled from the womb of complacency. Because trust me, I find comfort addicting, and given the opportunity I will eat, drink, or sleep my current circumstances away. Focusing on my own needs is insulatory and most likely fattening.
I suffer from illusional separation, that is what they call passive genocide, especially if I remain unaroused by my neighbors plight. It is only when I see you as a reflection of me that I am capable of giving birth to new possibilities. As Seth Godin claims, “change making happens when people fall in love with a different version of the future.” We are human, put to boil in this primordial soup, and maybe the work of our hands is to remove the hard outer shell. This kind of transformation does not come unalloyed, it requires both struggle, and sacrifice.
I finish with the story of the four sons. This is an ancient Kabbalistic teaching. The four children represent wisdom, wickedness, simplicity, and ignorance. The Haggadah mentions the wicked immediately after the wise. This reminds us that the wise cannot ignore their “wicked” brethren, for we are all responsible for each other. The wicked and the wise are close neighbors, by helping the wicked, we transform our own inner transgressions. The third child represents simple mindedness or a narrow vision. We must use a strong hand to overcome prejudice and liberate ourselves from personal enslavement. The fourth child may actually want to ask but lacks confidence and fears being seen as a fool. The Haggadah instructs us to be sensitive to such people, to put them at ease, and make them feel comfortable. Of course all of these children reside within each of us and I’m totally fine with your wise one comforting this old fool!