From the Polka Dot series by Francesca Woodman of Nicole from 1979
My true heart opens most in prayer, in songs of praise and communion of the Divine and those I love. My deeper heart, the part of me that is the central core of my soul heart and is woven into and connected to the Great Heart of Holiness really opens differently in prayer. I’m not sure what more to say after that, but being me, I guess I’ll try. I’m starting here, with my heart, the true one, because I need to talk about my need to do something really different from what most folks do or even imagine doing.
I am not sure if there is a study that has been done to gage the percentage of folks on this earth who feel called to serve the Divine. I’m not talking about people who attend religious services of one sort or another, or folks who casually engage in religious practices around holidays, family events, or out of obligation or a sense of tradition. I’m talking about the percentage of folks who feel pulled across time, space, mountains, rivers, streams, their families, reason, logic and any number of political beliefs or even being tortured or sacrificed to HAVE to engage, praise, serve and be with the Divine. The rabbis, the nuns, the Buddhist monks and nuns, the Shamans, the priests, the imams and the leaders of spiritual journeying wherever and however they connect to it, are the members of my tribe. It’s probably the same percentage of folks who feel they HAVE to climb Mount Everest or explore the deepest canyons of the oceans; not too big a percentage. I’m a serious member of this fringe group though. The relatively puny size of my tribe doesn’t really make any difference to me, and I am not talking about climbing high mountains physically.
The mountains and canyons I need to climb are linked to stars on distant galaxies and they are deep inside the cellular structure of my body and yours. They are the essential mountains, the true north peaks of the Soul. Really, not a big deal at all! I sometimes have to laugh at my ridiculous grandiose metaphors. I hope you can too. All kidding aside though, this is BIG.
I need to place myself in a context that can be related to in some shape or form by those who do not share my proclivity or my calling. I often have a profound and deep instant connection with the devout. It makes no difference whether they are practicing Christians, Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus, Native Americans, Jews, Pagans or any other stripe of folks who feel called to be in serious relationship with their sense of Holiness, there is an immediate spark of recognition and camaraderie that ignites between us.
So, where am I going with this? If I were living in a different century and I wasn’t Jewish, I’d definitely be pursuing retreat in a monastery or abbey or going on a long-term vision quest. Since, I am most definitely Jewish, in my true heart, my need to find space and time to connect in a more complete way is something I have to craft. It’s not something completely unheard of in the Jewish world. There are parables and stories about various rabbis in antiquity and even more recently who go off to commune with the Divine. The most well-known story is the one about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, which you can read about in detail elsewhere. Sometimes, other people say things better than I do, and in this instance Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue from his sermon: The Caves of Our Lives perfectly encapsulates what I need to say next:
“Jewish spirituality, though not oblivious to the allure of otherworldly pursuits, is better described as the ongoing effort to bring the mystical into the everyday. As our own Milton Steinberg explained, it is our ability to function as kinsman, congregant, citizen and human being which serves to advance God’s design. Bar Yochai, our greatest Jewish mystic, did not remain in the cave. Not even Moses himself stayed on top of the mountain too long; even he was ordered to return to his people to live in the company of the everyday world. Our spiritual heroes always bring the extraordinary back into the ordinary, the sacred to the mundane, or as the prayer book says over and over, carry the hope that the peace of the heavens is brought upon us, Israel and humanity. From Elijah in the cave, to Jesus in the desert, to Mohammad’s night journey, this is the oldest story of all – the call to enter another world in order to acquire wisdom and experience not available in the here and now. Each one of us, I suppose, if we chose to do so, could linger in the wild rumpus of those alternative realities, and perhaps someone would even suggest that we be made king of Where the Wild Things Are. But as Jews, more appealing than being crowned the philosopher king of the wild things, is our hope to return to the place where we are loved – to bring that other world back into this one, always returning home, hopefully in time to find our supper still hot. It is the oldest story of all, but the Jewish version always ends here – in this world, with our family, our fellow citizens and our obligations – each and every day, tending and tilling the very fields of this earth that God has given us all.” Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
So, I am announcing here my intention to enter the cave, there are no wild beasts chasing me or Romans threatening to kill me (as in the case of Rabbi Bar Yochai). Instead there is a loud and very constant ringing inside of me, a slow and steady gong beating, sort of like a heart beat. It is calling me to get still, to get away, to get into a completely different rhythm than the one I’ve been attending to for the last 49 years of my walk on this earth. I will be going into detail about the whys, the mechanics, the details, but not the LOCATION of my upcoming retreat here in these pages with all of you. This first installment here is part one of a larger series, most likely six or ten more articles.
Whether you are called or not, if you want to understand a little more about what it means to be called and to step away and outside of the spinning fast wheel that most folks are on, I invite you to get a taste here with me over the next few weeks. I’m not going away yet, but I am getting ready to be gone for a full year, this is your notice of my upcoming Jubilee Retreat. I’ll explain that term next time!
Nicole emerges from the cave of her wacky brain to write these thoughts down for you, she did so, this week, from her deck in Bayside. There were lots of flowers, bees and cawing birds giving her prompts and feedback about what she should or shouldn’t say here, bzzzzzzzzzz, tweet, caaaaaw, caaaw and also the flowers had some input for you, which she has shared here as well.
*This piece was originally published in The Mad River Union: Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014