Sunday, October 18, 2015

Amen

Amen. How familiar is this simple word. Even if we might not be someone who uses it in the context of prayer, we still might use the word as an affirmation. “Amen to that!” we say, when we wish to emphasize our agreement with something. But although it is a word in general use, it still is within the context of prayer that the word most belongs. But what does the word actually mean?

‘Amen’ is from the Hebrew, and simply means ‘faith’. As the closing word of a prayer, what we mean by ‘amen’ is that we have the faith that what we have prayed for will happen: that it will ‘come to pass’. So we can say that ‘amen’ is a way of saying ‘let it be so’. The word becomes a kind of seal affixed to the conclusion of a document: a pact of faith. But as can happen with words which have become familiar through much repetition, this simple word turns out to have hidden and unexpected depths.

In Hebrew ‘amen’ is spoken as ‘AMN’, without the extra vowel – which also is the identical same name as the principal Egyptian god Amun, which also would have been spoken as ‘AMN’. It is our own modern usage which supplies the extra letter. Think of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, who had the god’s name incorporated into his own. Now think of the name Moses, so familiar from the Torah and the Old Testament. It sounds so typically Ancient Hebrew – until we remember the name of such a pharaoh as Thutmoses. Tradition tells us that Moses was an adept of the Egyptian mystery schools during the years of Hebrew exile. Two cultures which might at first seem remote from each other would seem to have more in common than we might imagine, and in uttering ‘Amen’ at the conclusion of a prayer we might actually be invoking the blessings of an ancient god.

But ‘AMN’ has another echo. It also is very close in sound to the Sanskrit word ‘AUM’ (also written as ‘OM’ or OHM’). ‘AUM’ is not so much a word as a sound, an expression of the soul, of the Self, and apart from its use in meditation, also is affixed as a written symbol at the conclusion (and sometimes also at the beginning) of a passage of sacred text. To package up these ancient cultures, to imagine them sealed off from each other, is to ignore the flow of ideas and beliefs that travelled the trade routes of the Ancient World as much as did the spices and other material trade goods. 

When thought of as a sound, this simple word AMN/AUM would seem to be a powerful affirmation indeed: so powerful that the mere voicing of it could in some mysterious way actually help to call into being that which we wish for. And what we wish for, in the end, is simple peace of heart. We wish for something, whatever that ‘something’ happens to be, to ‘turn out right in the end’. To open our hearts to a sacred sound is in a way to enter sacred space, to open the door to possibilities provided to us when we make ourselves receptive to them. And when ‘amen’ is spoken from the heart, then what is spoken before it takes wing, and all shall be well.

Have faith. Let it be so. Amen.




Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Wolf's Eyelash

If you don't go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.

"Don't go out in the woods, don't go out," they said.
"Why not?  Why should I not go out in the woods tonight?" she asked.
"A big wolf lives there who eats humans such as you.  Don't go out in the woods, don't go out.  We mean it."

Naturally she went out.  She went out in the woods anyway, and of course she met the wolf, just as they had warned her.

"See, we told you," they crowed. 
"This is my life, not a fairy tale, you dolts," she said.  "I have to go to the woods, and I have to meet the wolf, or else my life will never begin."

But the wolf she encountered was in a trap, in a trap this wolf's leg was in. 
"Help me, oh help me! Aieeeee, aieeee, aieeee!" cried the wolf.  "Help me, oh help me!" he cried, "and I shall reward you justly."   For this is the way of wolves in tales of this kind.

"How do I know you won't harm me?" she asked - it was her job to ask questions.  "How do I know you will not kill me and leave me lying in my bones?"

"Wrong question," said this wolf.  "You'll just have to take my word for it." And the wolf began to cry and wail once again and more.

"Oh, aieee! Aieeee! Aieeee!
There's only one question worthy asking fair maiden,
wooooooooor aieeeee th' soooooooool?"

"Oh you wolf, I will take a chance.  Alright, here!"  And she sprang the trap and the wolf drew out its paw and this she bound with herbs and grasses.
"Ah, thank you kind maiden, thank you," sighed the wolf.  And because she had read too many of the wrong kind of tales, she cried, "Go ahead and kill me now, and let us get this over with."

But no, this did not come to pass.  Instead this wolf put his paw upon her arm.
"I'm a wolf from another time and place," said he.  And plucking a lash from his eye, he gave it to her and said, "Use this, and be wise.  From now on you will know who is good and not so good; just look through my eyes and you will see clearly. 
For letting me live, I bid you live in a manner as never before.
Remember, there's only one question worthy asking fair maiden,
wooooooooor aieeeee th' soooooooool?"

And so she went back to her village, happy to still have her life.
And this time as they said, "Just stay here and be my bride," 
or "Do as I tell you,"  or "Say as I want you to say,
and remain as unwritten upon as the day you came,"
she held up the wolf's eyelash and peered through
and saw their motives as she had not seen them before.
And the next time the butcher weighed the meat,
she looked through her wolf's eyelash and saw that he weighed his thumb too.
And she looked at her suitor who said "I am so good for you,"
And she saw that her suitor was so good for exactly nothing.
And in this way and more, she was saved,
from not all, but from many misfortunes.

But more so, in this new seeing, not only did she see the sly and cruel, she began to grow immense in heart, 
for she looked at each person and weighed them anew through this gift from the wolf she had rescued.

And she saw those who were truly kind
and went near to them,
and found her mate and stayed all the days of her life,
she discerned the brave and came close to them,
she apprehended the faithful and joined with them,
she saw bewilderment under anger and hastened to soothe it,
she saw love in the eyes of the shy and reached out to them,
she saw suffering in the stiff-lipped and courted their laughter,
she saw need in the man with no words and spoke for him,
she saw faith deep in the woman, who said she had none,
and rekindled hers from her own.
She saw all things with her lash of wolf
all things true, and all things false,
all things turning against life
and all things turning toward life,
all things seen only through the eyes of that
which weighs the heart with heart,
and not with mind alone.

This is how she learned that it is true what they say, that the wolf is the wisest of all. If you listen closely, the wolf in its howling is always asking the most important question - not where is the next food, not where is the next fight, not where is the next dance?....  but the most important question in order to see into and behind,
to weigh the value of all that lives: 
wooooooooor aieeeee th' soooooooool?"
wooooooooor aieeeee th' soooooooool?"
Where is the soul?
Where is the soul?

Go out in the woods, go out.  If you don't go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.

Go out in the woods, go out.
Go out in the woods, go out,
Go out in the woods, go out.


Excerpt from "The Wolf's Eyelash," original prose poem from "Rowing Songs for the Night Sea Journey,  Contemporary Chants" ... reprinted in Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype  by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Stone Ape

Once, when the world was not as old as it is now, there lived a stone ape. This stone ape lived in a forest, because endless forests were what this young world mostly consisted of. It was rumored that somewhere far beyond the forest, at the very rim of the world, tall cloud-shrouded mountains nestled together. But no one was sure, because no one had ever journeyed quite that far.

The stone ape was a rather arrogant creature, but this did not bother anyone because there seemed to be no one else around to bother. Until one morning. While swinging through the forest the stone ape suddenly saw in a clearing below a figure. The figure looked human enough, but the stone ape seemed to sense that there was somehow something different about this one. Curious as to whom the figure was, the stone ape swung down to the ground and asked the figure’s name.

“I am Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.” Replied Buddha. The stone ape had heard of the Buddha, and dimly remembered hearing that he was some kind of great being. 

“You are great, Lord Buddha, but I am greater still.” replied the stone ape smugly. “I am stronger and faster, and can cover more distance in a single day than you could even dream of. In fact,” he added with a flourish of bravado, “I will! I’ll start out this very moment and journey to the very edge of the world. I’ll leave my mark there and meet you back in this clearing before the sun has set on this day!” The stone ape had hardly finished speaking before he had whirled around and set off, but Buddha merely smiled and settled beneath a tree to meditate. 

How vast the forest was! The stone ape had never been so far from his own territory, but the forest seemed to go on forever. Still the stone ape journeyed on as the bright sun climbed higher in the sky towards noon. For the first time the stone ape passed great rivers, leaping over them with what seemed to be a new-found strength, bounding along with the exhilaration which comes from knowing one’s own powers. The forest was at last giving way to more hilly terrain, and still the stone ape journeyed on with a speed which even he had not imagined himself capable of. Now the afternoon sun began to be shrouded in mist and clouds, and the stone ape sensed that ahead must be the mountains at the world’s edge. 

As if growing in power, the stone ape now reached up and grabbed hold of a cloud, swinging from cloud to cloud above snow-covered mountains and frozen rivers of ice. And when he saw ahead of him the tallest mountains of all, he knew that the edge of the world was only a little way ahead. At the very summit of the highest peak two great pillars rose up to almost touch the sky. The pillars marked the edge of the world, and with an extra great effort, the stone ape hurled himself on high and in the red light of the sinking sun scratched his mark on the two towering pillars.

But there was now no time to lose. Even as the sun was setting the stone ape set off again, speeding back over clouds, hills, rivers and forests, at last to arrive back in the twilit clearing where the Buddha was calmly waiting for him. 

“All that I said I would do I have accomplished!” announced the stone ape. "While you have only been sitting here in this clearing I have journeyed to the very edge of the world! And I left my mark on two great pillars that stand there.”

“Oh?” said Buddha, and held out two of his fingers to show the stone ape. “You mean this mark here?”


Retold and adapted from an Indonesian folktale. 




Painting by René Hausman