Sunday, March 12, 2006
I finally got through Jeremiah and Lamentations and entered the strange realm of Ezekiel the prophet. It opens:
1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
I remember the first time I ever read those words, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I have read parts of Ezekiel before, mostly connected to my interest in the tarot. The image on the World card is most often depicted as a woman in a mandorla with the creatures from Ezekiel's vision in the corners. Those same creatures turn up in the book of Revelations... and the church has somehow morphed them into representing the four evangelists. I noticed, for the first time this morning, that the base of the pulpit at Grace Church has a cross with the same images- an angel, an eagle, a bull and a lion.
I haven't gotten very far in Ezekiel, but as I came to the end of chapter 3, these words stood out:
12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound—May the glory of the LORD be praised in his dwelling place!- 13 the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. 14 The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. 15 I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days-overwhelmed.
My river experience wasn't anything like Ezekiel's. I did not see visions of weird creatures or eat scrolls. I did not see God. No doves, even. (That came later...) But this passage strikes me as containing such deep truth. Any encounter with God leaves one feeling overwhelmed. I remember, like Ezekiel, being unable to function after my baptism. Unable to think or do anything. I felt so completely overwhelmed by it I wondered at points if I would ever be the same again. (I wouldn't.) I wondered if I was going insane. (I don't think so.) I wondered if the feeling of my soul bursting free of my body would ever subside. (It did.) For days I was on the verge of tears and hysteria.
In Ezekiel's day, it was believed that if you saw God, you would die. You would be so completely overwhelmed by his enormity that you simply couldn't continue to live.
Jewish mystics believe that God was so overwhelming, he had to manifest in the world in stages, lest he blow it to smithereens with his power. He created vessels to contain himself, but was so huge the vessels shattered into billions of pieces. They broke apart, carrying with them some of the essence of God's light.
Ezekiel, then, probably felt lucky to walk away from that afternoon on the river.
I suspect, he broke, too. He was broken in the same way that a deep encounter with God shatters us. We are vessels, and the pieces of what we were go flying into a million directions.
And as with Tikkun Olam, we go about gathering the pieces back together. But the vessel we are recreating isn't quite the same, is it? Now, it isn't just us in here. Now, the vessel we create has room for God.
And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days-overwhelmed.