Every year a flood… Every day a tower
(FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO READ MY HALF-WRITTEN POSTING EARLIER, MY HUMBLE APOLOGIES. I PRESSED THE WRONG DANG BUTTON!)
Before I move on to my own take on this week’s reading, I want to send you merrily off to read Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Haftarah for the Rainbow Covenant. Consider these lines of prophecy: You, My people, drowning in the flood of words and images that beckon you to eat and eat, to drink and drink, to fill and overfill your bellies at the tables of the gods of wealth and power… You, My people, drowning in the flood of words and images that poured unceasing on your eyes and ear drown out My words of Torah, My visions of the earth made whole…
Cool, huh? Puts me in mind of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl just a tad, though this has a happier ending.
Last year, I posted a perfectly good summary of the story of Noah and an accompanying poem. Rather than write something original, I’m going to offer a refrain. The first line of this week’s Torah portion finds Noah, already 500+ years old, in a hell of a spot: he’s the only human being on Earth God isn’t annoyed with. The first stab at populating the world has already gone to hell in a hand-basket & the Source of all life decides to blot out humankind. For Noah, there’s an ark to build, a floating biology experiment to conduct, a deluge to survive. But what happens on the other end? That’s what I’m curious about. How do any of us find our way to the other side of disaster? What do we bring with us? What do we try to forget? I might also mention that this week we read of the Tower of Babel. Also a good story, rich with metaphor. It was just too much to try and fit into one poem. Alas.
Alas is right, but I’ve now remedied this small problem with the poem When You Get Where You’re Going Next. It is a postscript to my musings re: what we do in the face of a deluge (Mnemonics) and is best understood if you read the two pieces together (though that isn’t mandatory and would be grossly underhanded of me).
Anyhow: Babel, the quasi-ziggurat built on the plains of Shinar, in Babylon. Just as there are many Great Flood stories, so too are there many tower-in-the-sky stories found from ancient Sumer to the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia. Many of these stories involve a confusion of languages. All involve catastrophe when humans approach the skies — cracked heads, crashing scaffolding, burning and swallowing up and just plain falling down. I am struck by the yearning contained in such accounts – are the gods approachable? Will iron or clay open the gates? Just how far can the earth extend before it meets sky?
How do we, facing the vagaries and mysteries of life, manage to go on? Every year – or 10, if we’re lucky – there’s a deluge, an out-of-the-ordinary catastrophe that knocks us on our ass. But every day (every single day), we’re faced with whether we can speak with Heaven. We’re faced with building up and knocking down. God doesn’t destroy the Tower, but rather scatters its builders and leaves the bricks and mortar standing as a reminder of what went wrong. Feels kinda like the real thing.