Friday, December 21, 2018

Eyes Remade For Wonder*

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner ‘s book *Eyes Remade For Wonder begins this way: Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Ger, author of one of the great works of Eastern European mystical theology, the Sefas Emes, commented that when Jacob dreamed about a ladder joining heaven and earth, he had attained a level of spiritual awareness that would have filled most people with pride.  God had spoken to him personally and assured him of a successful future.  Instead, however, Jacob was overcome with reverence. “And Jacob awoke from his sleep....Shaken, he said ‘How awesome is this place!’” To our surprise, however, Jacob’s ego does not get bigger, it gets smaller! Such reverence, says the Gerer Rebbe, is a sure sign that someone is on to a great truth.  Indeed, every event that occasions reverence also participates in ultimate truth. “Reverence is the beginning and the end of everything.”[1]

                About five days ago, I had my left eye “done” - - cataract surgery.  I had heard all kinds of stories about the various improvements in vision that I might expect.   None of them prepared me for the experience of waking up on the day following the surgery.   I came down stairs to breakfast and as I looked out at the birthing sunrise,  my first response was that “Oh my, I have lost a certain quality of color” - it was as thought some parts of the spectrum were missing.   I experimented with closing first one eye and then the other and it was only a matter of moments before I realized that I was having an  experience  of a clarity of vision I had been missing for the last few years. Rather than losing color,  I was seeing more of the spectrum than I have seen in a long time.  I stood in awe as I watched the sun rise - - witnessing shades of purest blue in the pink and orange and lavender light array that I had not seen before. 

I moved to our south facing kitchen window where I enjoy the daily ritual of watching the morning sun illuminate a tall, silvery, skeletal oak tree - long dead but refusing to truly die.  With each sunrise it seems as though the glory of God is revealed when the light softly moves up its branches.  With my new eye, the light reflected in its familiar structure took my breath away - - literally breath-taking!  The difference between what I saw as glory with my right eye (the “undone” eye) and what I am now able to see with my left eye left me feeling weak-kneed with free flowing tears tracking down my face.  With Jacob, I felt the truth vibrating within me: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”

        For the rest of the day I moved about my world closing first my left eye and viewing life through the mist of the remaining cataract in my right eye and then closing my right eye and viewing the world through the clarity of my new lense.   How many times can one say “WOW!” in the course of one day?  The title of Kushner’s book came to mind - - my eye has been “remade for wonder”  and the effect is one of awe and reverence for the profound beauty I encounter in each moment.

I have been contemplating this experience - knowing that it is transitory.  When I have the second surgery in a few weeks, the contrast will disappear.  Both eyes will soon see the same array of color. All will soon become “normal.”  Something in me wants to extract every drop of meaning from what I experience in this “in between” time - to delight in the contrast for as long as possible - - to stay in this awesome place that is the gateway to heaven, to dwell in the glory from moment to moment.

But then a second sacred story comes to mind.   Peter, James and John accompany Jesus to a mountain top where his glory is revealed to them.  They offer to create three dwellings there - perhaps a way to contain the glory, to preserve the moment for themselves.  But the master teacher leads them back down the mountain, informed and inspired - -  transformed by what they have known, but forbidden to speak of it as they go back to the work of servant-hood in the valley. (Matthew 17:1-9) He guards against their ego needs.

How easy it would be to get caught up in “the ego” that would keep things as they are for the ongoing enjoyment of the bliss, the constant return to the light and the glory and the beauty - - and yet, I find it is also becoming a distraction in its own way.  In mid-moment, I find myself being drawn to blinking my eyes to enjoy the contrast, forgetting that I may be engaged in conversation with another person -leaving the present momentarily to enjoy what only I can see.  So easy to fall into the subtlety of  attachment to the fleeting knowledge of the holy - - grasping - - holding on - - thus creating an un-holiness, an un-wholeness out of a holy but transitory gift.

Baruch Hashem!!  Blessed is the One who inspires teachers like the Gerer Rebbe, teachers like Jesus, who remind and correct and re-direct us with their knowledge and awareness that glimpses of holiness are not meant to be grasped.  They are  instances of transformation.  They are brilliance to light us on our paths in awe and reverence,  gifts that challenge our attachments even to the revelation of the Holy.

So - the second appointment is made.  In a few weeks my eyes will “normalize.”    Even so, I like to think that my eyes have, indeed, been remade for wonder - that my vision will be clearer - - that clarity of vision will indeed lead to a state of reverence that is the beginning and the end of everything.

          From time to time, we humans need “eyes remade for wonder” and especially in these dark and confusing times when reverence for life, for the planet, for order,
for each other and even for ourselves, seems gone missing.   May we be blessed in the New Year with clarity of vision - - with eyes remade for wonder.

Vicky Hanjian

[1] Rabbi Lawrence Kushner  Eyes Remade For Wonder Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT.   1998.   p.3

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