Tag Archive: learn

Housesitting and off the shelf of an extraordinary library I discover the poetry of Stevie Smith… I think she and I have become friends and I just may have to visit again…






Take off that cloak of fear,
the divine strength you seek is here,
and you know you are dying to live.
You know you are dying to live.

We seek to live a more contemplative life so that we will not have to wait until we are dying to learn to live.

Teach us the grace of listening.
Reveal to us the art of dying.
Show us the face of God.


p.25, Seven Sacred Pauses – Macrina Wiederkehr



As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
By C. P. Cavafy
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard



Only I would tear pages out of a book, draw on them, paint them, then decide I wanted to read it… not sure whether to laugh or sigh – perhaps a little of both is in order… already fascinating…

p.7-8  If we would appeal to science at all, we must use her methods – not methods of our own choosing.  Now it is a generally accepted principle in science that it is only through the study of the unusual, the odd and the seemingly inexplicable, that man can be led onwards towards new knowledge.  The scientist whose mind revolves only in the grooves of well recognised theory has little chance of discovering important new principles.  In fact, an important element in the scientific method consists in the focusing of attention upon the things that science cannot explain, or has difficulty in explaining.  In this way only can it be discovered whether known principles will cover all the facts, or whether new remain to be discovered.

We must apply the same method if we wish to build a reliable philosophy of nature.  If we consider only the recognised laws of science we shall never discover whether they are adequate to explain everything in the universe – we shall never even discover whether they are the most important factors of which we ought to take cognisance.  To reach a sane judgement, we must turn to the odd and the peculiar.  We must think about things which, in the light of present scientific knowledge, seem inexplicable.  We must ask if they really are inexplicable, or only apparently so.  And should the first possibility seem the more likely, we must ask whether the inexplicable facts can be explained – explained, not of course, in a fundamental sense, but in the scientific sense of co-ordinated or grouped together by a new hypothesis or theory which would make them inexplicable no longer.  Finally, if we are able to do so we must test our theory – we must see whether it can help us to understand yet other facts, which we have overlooked hitherto, whether it will stimulate our minds to research in new directions and so forth.  And, as the past history of science has shown on repeated occasions, it will often happen that the good theory, based upon phenomena that once seemed queer and out of the ordinary, will help us to understand the ordinary and commonplace.

This is the scientific method of discovery of truth – the method upon which the scientific edifice of our day has been built.  And it is also the way of common sense – a codification of the rules that are always used in establishing evidence.  For the scientific method is only a glorified version of the ways of common sense.  The detective, like the scientist, focuses his attention upon the details that seem queer and inconsistent with the knowledge he already possesses;  like the scientist he frames his theories upon those parts of the picture that at first seem odd and inexplicable; like the scientist again he seeks to discover whether his theories are adequate.  The economist, the historian, the archaeologist, the linguist – every one, in fact, whose business it is to discover facts adapts the same procedure.  The scientific method is the method of human reason.

p.9 Instead of examining the inexplicable. The modern writer only too often examines the explicable: instead of showing interest in the extraordinary, he revels in the ordinary.  And his reply to those who adopt a more orthodox procedure is to the effect that they are inventing a “God of the gaps” who will be doomed to extinction as soon as all-conquering science has discovered how the gaps may be filled in.


Instead of avoiding the difficulties, instead of begging the question by pretending that every difficulty is mere gap, we must boldly explore the suppose gaps with all the care we can muster.  Nor need we apologise for doing so.

The Mystery of the Zohar (The Book of Radiance)

The Zohar is the most important work of the Kabbalah.  It emerged/appeared in the 13th century in Spain and was associated with Rabbi Moses de-Leon.  According to de-Leon, the Zohar was an ancient book (composed by a famous 2nd century Jewish sage) which was found in a cave in Israel and was brought to Spain and into his house.  De Leon sold portions of the work and claimed he was copying from the ancient book.  Even so, during his life ad after his death some didn’t believe de Leon’s version and believed him to be the real author of the work.  Those who thought de-Leon was the author believed that that book was written by means of a mystical technique, namely employing one of the names of God to enter a trance like state whereby the book was channeled to him and written through “automatic writing”.  Today, most of all scholars think that the book was written in Spain in the late 13th century and that De Leon is connected to it either as a sole author or as one of the authors but it is still an unsolved mystery.

The Zohar is a very long and magnificent book:

  1. It tells a story of a great teacher – Rabi Shimon Bar-Yochai – and his 10 students who are travelling around Israel.
  2. If tells the story of how the Divine Powers – (the Sefirot) – emanated from the infinite God (Ein Sof). Something mysterious happened (a little bit like the big bang) and this event generated the ten divine powers which have different personalities and aspects – some masculine and some feminine in their nature (the infinite God is i a way similar to out soul or to the unconscious and the Sefirot to our body).  The last power is feminine and is known as Malkhut (kingdom) or Shekhinah.  Our world was born from Shekhina and therefore is always feminine is nature –  there are cycles and there are death in it.  Since the Shekhinah is not always connected to the other 9 powers – like her, we sometimes feel full and part of something bigger but often times not.
  3. It is structured as a commentary on the Five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) – the commentary shows how the bible stories actually hide the stories of the divine powers – their creation and their relationships with one another.
  4. It was written in Aramaic and in a special coded language.  Different words are actually symbols of the divine powers.
  5. The book was written in a way that can affect the readers as a drug.  The images that arouse the senses and feeling expand the reader’s mind and allow them to learn about the true and deep meaning of themselves, of their bodies, of their relationships, their sexuality etc.
  6. There is a similarity and maybe identification between the Divine and the Human.
  7. The kabbalists can affect the divine world in different ways and they can bring the divine female and the divine male together – this is usually described in sexual terms.  When the male and the female come together in a sexual union the beautiful divine flow comes into the world.
  8. The Shekhinah is the first and only gate into the divine realm and she is the main hero of the Zohar.




I will confess that when I heard the topic of the week was the Zohar/Kabbalah, I came to the conversation with little beyond “wasn’t Madonna into that at some point”?  I have made a point here of including the words that were on Merav’s handout and not my own notes and reflections because to be honest I found some of what I was hearing very strange to my (admittedly) limited understanding despite Merav doing an admirable job of trying to explain it!

What I DID do, by way of response, was immediately pick up a bible and flicked randomly to various sections of the Old Testament, trying to engage it as if I had never heard of Christianity before and recording my first impressions, I found myself in:

Exodus 30:11-16 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them…”

> ransom/kidnapping/buy back language?

> rich people should pay the same amount of tax/tithe as the poor people

> pay up or you’ll get the plague

Judges 19:7-13 ” …saw the people who were there, how they dwelt in security… quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth, and possessing wealth… ‘Arise, and let us go up against them… Do not be slow to go, and enter in and possess the land… God has given it to your hands…’ And six hundred men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set forth…”

> invade others countries, it’s a God-given right, especially when you out-number them

> especially where there’s material wealth (ahem, OIL)

> invade them while they’re unarmed and unsuspecting without warning or negotiation

2 Samuel 13:23-29 “But Absolom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.  Then Absolom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon’, then kill him.  Fear not, have I not commanded you?” 

> arranging to kill the guy that rapes your sister is ok

> lie to get near the target, offer them lavish hospitality and then
when they’re blind drunk (unarmed and unsuspecting) take them out

Say what you like about my methodology here, my point is merely that I would certainly struggle to describe my beliefs on the basis of a few readings to anyone who had never heard of it before, or to relate well how I choose to live and act on those beliefs in a way that bears any relation to these passages.

  • it is good to visit familiar places as if we are arriving for the first time and know how that might be experienced for people
  • the mystery of the Zohar might remain mysterious to me, but what I do not understand still has something to teach me