I had the pleasure of learning about parashat Noach this past shabbos. The topics covered were heavy hitters: sexual immorality, primordial floods, idolatry… all the good stuff. I can’t say I’ve been excited about unpacking these words in the past– preferring to leave them in the realm of the abstract and distant, and thus, the non-applicable. But, this lesson was a good one. And I left feeling like I have an entry point into considering these ideas in some more intimate ways.
The theme that twined itself around sexual immortality and idolatry wascommunication, both in terms of how we relate to (and communicate with) ourselves and with others. I’ve read a bit of pop-psychology about co-dependency in the past, and noticed some similarities as we talked about Noach and the flood.
A few important premises in our Noach conversation: 1) Intimate human relationships can be seen as mirroring of our relationships with God. 2) Human and divine relationships can both be understood as relationships with otherness. 3) We all have in us a deep longing to connect, to other humans and to the divine.
So… pop psych has much to say about not-so healthy human relationships. Specifically, that when we approach others with a desire to connect deeply, we don’t always communicate. Too often we act out physical connection without accompanying emotional communication. Check this language out:
“Falling” in love is a regressive state. It brings us straight to the heart of our hunger—our hunger for meaning, for comfort, for satisfaction, for safety. The sexual bonding we long for—[is] the disappearance of all boundaries and borders… [as] two people become one energy. We are no longer alone. Our defenses are down. We are revealed beyond our well defined, autonomous selves… If we have adapted ourselves in life, rather than healed [coped rather than cured]… it will show up when we fall in love.
- Kathleen Woodward
I like this because I think it’s honest about the ways that loving can so often become about the desire to disappear the boundaries of the self, rather than being radically in communication with the self. You know that first joy of finding someone new? and then the subsequent slow and painful discovery of all the ways that you left parts of yourself out in the “falling” process, and that you failed to acknowledge parts of the other that were in conflict with that image you had of them?
So I’m beginning to think of the ways that this projected understanding of the other is a form of idolatry. It circumvents true intimacy because it allows us to stop going deeper into knowing ourselves. And perhaps, most treacherously, it becomes a denial of the ultimate unknowability of the other, human and divine.
And that ultimate unknowability is fundamental, if only because it keeps us curious. How magical is curiosity! I truly had never before meditated on the power of curiosity. But it’s a driving force in all of our lives, as learners, as friends, and lovers, as humans striving to understand our purpose. “Love is to be identified with curiosity, with that attentiveness to the self-made world of others” (Aviva Zornberg) because love must not be about an attachment to a static idea of an entity beyond ourselves, but rather an attachment to the continued unfolding of the mystery of otherness.
And what does all this have to do with prayer? Well. I’ll be brief. I think that prayer is a way of meditating on the unknown without trying to own it. It’s dipping your feet in daily, sometimes immersing, but knowing that you can’tstay forever. You can, however, visit again soon.