After chopping cabbage with Sam, I stopped by one of the cabins for a quick shower, my first in three days, and put on clean clothes. Then, after a tasty lunch in the dining hall — fresh mesculin mix, eggplant parmesan, and challah — I ducked in the men’s room for a quick pee, where I found myself side by side with Danny the Rabbinical Rapper. We made small talk as men do who are trying to pretend they aren’t inches apart while performing an intimate bodily function, and then I remembered something a teacher in seminary once told me.
“Isn’t there a blessing for going to the bathroom?” I asked in mid-stream.
“Yeah,” Danny said. “It’s called the asher yatzar. It’s attributed to Abayei, a fourth-century Babylonian rabbi.”
“Do you say it?”
“Sure, all observant Jews say it. It’s sort of like thanking God that everything is working properly down there. In English It could be translated like this: ‘Blessed is the One who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifeces and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them was to be ruptured or one of them blocked, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.'”
“That’s beautiful,” I said. A few simple words, and the act of taking a piss could suddenly become elevated into a song of praise.
“A person makes a bed every day, as a service to themselves and perhaps their family member. A parent makes sandwiches for the children’s lunches. Someone else digs a trench in which to place sewerage pipes. Everyone of these things can be seen as ‘merely’ doing the job. It may seem a stretch to speak of them as having a ‘spiritual’ significance, but this is because we have so reified the ‘spiritual’ as to separate it from the practical, the physical and indeed from life as it is lived. My contention is that we need to re-think the idea of the Spirit’s presence precisely to embrace the ordinary, the practical and physical, including the beautiful and those things we might consider merely functional.”
Frank Rees, “New Directions in Australian Spirituality: Sabbath beyond the Church” in Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review 47 (2015: 1):75-88.
“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”
From the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
“Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them either. They keep you.”
Frank Crane (1861–1928) American Presbyterian minister
“I’m at a stage of life where I either get to look at the glass half empty, having quickly gulped down the years to quench my thirst for living, or I can see how much I still have left and treasure every drop. What this journey has taught me is not to dwell so much on how much water there is left to drink, but to marvel at the beauty of the intricate patterns embellished on the glass itself.”
Leah Kaminsky, We’re All Going to Die, Harper Collins, 2106, 264-265.
“The need to be right carries with it the fear of being wrong. In the lives of many Christian adults these factors prevent learning. To be ready to learn is to be ready to admit that there is much one does not know, that one may not be entirely right. There is even the risk that one may be proved wrong.”
Professor John Hull (1935-2015)
“If there is indeed such a thing as eternity, it must lie at the core of time, not at its conclusion.”
Terry Eagleton, Hope Without Optimism, Newhaven: Yale University Press, 2015, 34.
“I am a pastor. My work has to do with God and souls — immense mysteries that no one has ever seen at any time. But I carry out this work in conditions — place and time — that I see and measure wherever I find myself, whatever time it is. There is no avoiding the conditions. I want to be mindful of the conditions. I want to be as mindful of the conditions as I am of the holy mysteries.”
Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, New York: Harper Collins, 2011, 7.
“If your daily life seems poor do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Norton, 1954.
“There is a tendering of the soul toward everything in creation, from the sparrow’s fall to the slave under the lash. The hard-lined face of a money-bitten financier is as deeply touching to the tendered soul as are the burned-out eyes of the miners’ children, remote and unseen victims of his so-called success. There is a sense in which, in this terrible tenderness, we become one with God and bear in our quivering souls the sins and burdens, the benightedness and the tragedy of the creatures of the whole world, and suffer in their suffering, and die in their death.”
Thomas R. Kelly, Testament of Devotion, New York: HarperCollins, 1992 (1941), 64.