Tag Archives: religion

She said she said


I was from the south, young, Jewish, and IN LOVE
with a preacher’s boy—so naturally I ended up following
him to the small Baptist university his family chose for him.
(It didn’t last.) The point is that there, religion was mandatory,
so I took the course on The Old Testament,
in which the professor kept going on about Yahweh.

At first, I didn’t know what in the world she was talking about.
In Hebrew, YHWH is pronounced Adonai,
and I kept wondering—and still do—how she couldn’t know that.
I mean, you’d think someone would explain it to her.


To my shame, I do not know when and from whom I received this story. It was, I believe, in an email or a comment in response to one of my poems. If you are the original author, please accept my apology and contact me so I can grovel appropriately.

Yahweh was the national god of the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel (then known as Samaria) and Judah, and may have developed from ‘El’, the head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon. After the return from exile in Babylon, Yahweh had become monotheistic, the sole Divine Presence. The relationship of Yahweh to the tetragrammaton of YHWH, and on to the numerous names and titles of God used throughout Jewish history is a fascinating history that is too long and too complex to get into here. (But I urge you to follow the links…it really is interesting.) Christian bibles tend to translate YHWH as either Jehovah or Lord, although a modernist approach is to leave the tetragrammaton unchanged.

The point being, in Judaism, it is traditional to say ‘Adonai‘ for the word YHWH. But it is not that YHWH is pronounced as Adonai (which, by the way, strictly means ‘My lords’) it is a substitution made out of reverence and respect. Another is HaShem (The Name).

Thank you for reading All she needed do was ask. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Acre, Israel, some years ago; the family was there as part of our Bahá’í pilgrimage. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

Advertisements

Comments Off on She said she said

Filed under Poetry

The church on the hill


The Church on the hill

 

I went up the hill to visit the old man who lives there.
It’s been a long time, he said, Since I’ve seen you.
Yes, I said, I know. But I’d not forgot you.
Then, in welcome, he sang to me.
But what I had remembered as a youthful voice,
full of vigor and fit for forever, had turned into a croak,
a rasp, a sad affair of the heart.

When he dies, I thought, a little of me will die with him.
These bones go deep, he said with an effort,
proud yet, and then, How can you forgive yourself?
I thought about that as I kissed him goodnight
and laid him to rest, up there on that hill.
In nomine Patris, I said gently. In nomine Patris.


In nomine Patris (in NOM-e-nay PAW-tray) is the opening verse of In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen, the Latin used by Catholics to say the sign of the cross: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Although raised a Catholic (I was even once head altar boy) I became a Bahá’í at 17. I had few occasions to visit a church after that, but one such occasion was the funeral of a friend’s brother. That church was up on a hill, but the hill of the poem is not a physical one.

My understanding of this poem has changed over time. My father, who is now 80-something-wonderful visited us some time back. I adore my father for the incredible man he is: the finest example of a Christian I know. But he is also very Catholic and while he has never challenged my conversion, I know it hurts him and worries him more. In re-reading this poem I realized that what I had also written about was our relationship: loving, strong, but with some hurt and some regret.

Thank you for reading The church on the hill. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled, appropriately enough, The church on the hill, and was taken from a set of photographs shot in the Poconos. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2012.11.21

6 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Last nights

Did you plan on dancing through the pain,
or you, to give sweets away in thanks?
And you—you prepared your wedding gown
when you knew that they were coming;
while you, in joy, communed the night through,
half here, half there, yearning for the dawn,
yearning for the chance to stand and cry,
‘O king!’ as if calling to a servant,
for of course you were, and for that alone would die.

I do not believe it happenstance—
that accident and fate can connive for
such perfection. But what love does it take
to command the will to shape such an end?
And so joyously?

Curiously, this poem had two creative forces. One, from several years ago was quite clear: my dearest friend and self-adopted brother, Samandary  (the English language really ought to have a specific word for this type of relationship—and it’s not ‘bro’) suggested both the idea, the title and much of the substance. (Clearly, you can understand why it took me so long to bring the poem to fruition, having been given so little to proceed on.)

The second impetus was my recent reading of the book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, an effort to prove—with this being counter-intuitive to our every notion—that violence has decreased throughout history and is today at its lowest level ever. It is a brilliant book and one that, quite frankly, I started to read to determine how silly and foolish the author was, only to be converted by the clarity of his writing and the strength of his facts and binding logic. Read it only if you do not fear feeling better about the world.

But there was one section of this book that I disagreed with, and that is the second specific impetus for this poem. Pinker is quite open about being an atheist. I have no problem with that, except that I think it taints his view of the role that self-sacrifice has placed in religious history. His description of the crucifixion process is quite graphic and he progresses from there to describe how religious martyrs have been killed throughout the ages, in a tone which does not so much describe the level of violence that the societies of that day could gleefully inflict (which is his point) but implies the silliness and foolishness of the martyrs to allow themselves to say or do anything that would set them up for such treatment.

I could not disagree more. To me, that “silliness and foolishness” is better called “certitude and conviction” and was not done to invite violence, but was done courageously in the face of such evil, so as to change it, one of the causes in the reduction of violence throughout the ages that Pinker does not care to suggest. Moreover, such courage is the hallmark of all the world religions.

We in the Bahá’í Faith are no exception to the history of relentless religious persecution. The different incidents referred to in this poem of how four stalwart heroes prepared for, or acted, during their martyrdom, actually happened. In fact, Bahá’í martyrdom still happens in Iran and Yemen to this day, the most recent being just a few weeks ago. True martyrdom is never sought, but when inflicted by evil, bigoted people, it is faced with courage, resignation, self-sacrifice, love and humility. And I, for one, will always honor them.

Thank you for reading Last nights. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

PS: By the way, Iran English Radio, the official Iranian radio for English speaking peoples followed my blog after the publication of another poem in which I highlighted the persecution of religious minorities and the destruction of basic human rights in that country. I have little hope that my or your appeal to their humanity would make any difference, but be aware that they may read your comments. Also, Iran English Radio has yet to ‘like’ any of my poetry. Frankly, I’m hurt.

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

Comments Off on Last nights

Filed under Poetry

The orange tree

In the spring, its blossoms scented the air throughout the neighborhood.
Mrs. Nusrat Yalda’i, 54 years old
I knew it well, as I grew up close to that House, leaving only when I was 17.
Mrs. ‘Izzat Janami Ishraqi, 50 years old
I even used to say my prayers on the spot where He declared Himself
Miss Roya Ishraqi, 23; the daughter of ‘Izzat
and was proud, and happy, to be allowed to take care of that tree.
Mrs. Tahirih Siyavushi, 32 years old
When we were sick, my grandmother would make us tea from its blossoms
Miss Zarrin Muqimi, 28 years old
and for a difficult exam, I would put one of its leaves in my textbook, for luck.
Miss Shirin Dalvand, 25 years old
When they razed His House, the tree was sacrificed too; much was lost then…
Miss Akhtar Sabit, 19 or 20 years old
Years later, on pilgrimage, I saw two orange trees growing outside of His Shrine
Miss Simin Saberi, early 20’s
and learned that they are descendants of that orange tree from Shiraz!
Miss Mahshid Nirumand, 28 years old
I was so happy to see that tree alive and sacrificing itself, again, for others.
Miss Mona Mahmudnizhad, 17 years old;
she asked to be the last of the ten hanged so that she could help her sisters
if they needed it. They did not.
So happy.


Abbas Jannat is a Persian Bahá’í who contacted me recently asking permission to copy and use my poem That House. I, of  course thanked him for the courtesy of his request, granted the permission and asked how he had found the poem and why was he drawn to it. He had found the poem and the Book of Pain on Google (you can do that?!) and wanted to use the poem in a commemoration of a Bahá’í Holy Day. He also shared with me some details of his life, and in follow up emails his close connection to, and history with, the House of the Báb. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity in sharing these details with me. As soon as I read his words I knew there was a beautiful poem in them.

His response and notes from our subsequent emails form the narrative half of this poem. The second half of the poem, which I incorporated to stress the theme of sacrifice, is equally sad and tragic.

The history of the destruction of the House of the Báb in 1979 by the newly arrived political dominance of the Islamic Revolution, I have already covered in the posting for I am not here, but I will always be there so I will not repeat it here. That event was, sadly, only the opening salvo in the Islamic Revolution’s still (as of 2013) on-going war of persecution to eradicate the Bahá’í Faith in Iran. One of the next provocations was the martyrdom of many Bahá’ís, but most famously that of ten women from the city of Shiraz,  on June 18, 1983. As I write this, tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of that heartbreaking affair.

I can only imagine the thoughts of the religious fanatics as they hatched their plan: ‘Let’s attack their women!’ they said. ‘They are the weakest and easiest to intimidate! And when they are broken, their husbands and children will recant too, out of shame!’

How little fanatics understand anything!

The trial was clearly a sham and the women convicted of ‘Zionist’ activities (this, apparently because the Bahá’í World Headquarters are in Israel, where the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith was sent when it was a penal colony of the Ottoman Empire) and for teaching children after they had been expelled from their schools for their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion as a basic human right was then and is now, clearly a farce in Iran. Indeed, each and every one of these women could have bought their instantaneous freedom at any time in the process, including up to the point of martyrdom, by saying the merest words of recantation of their belief in Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. That not one soul did, brought me then, and brings me now, to the verge of tears every time I think of their courage and love.

May my life be a sacrifice to their noble and courageous lives.

Thank you for reading the orange tree. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

PS: By the way, Iran English Radio, the official Iranian radio for English speaking peoples followed my blog after the publication of that House. I have little hope that my or your appeal to their humanity would make any difference, but be aware that they will read your comments.

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Who?

I have a friend who’s dying—but don’t we all?
There on his wall, from the photos of his memories
we stare back: him/you/me—all of us, ones among many,
emergent from chaos, unpredictable yet bound,
looping up from within and flinging ourselves forward,
ever forward, remade in each and every labored breath—
until, I suppose, we can’t or don’t
although I still believe we do, even then.

But I’m tired of all this indecision
so ‘yes,’ say I: slice me apart, knock me down
and slap me up there on that wall—
let’s have a grand old look at this me of mine!
Surely I am more than the observant self,
a story I fabricate the while,
effect and cause, more deceiving than perceiving
bleeding before the cut.
Do not talk to me of actions and reactions,
I want to make that slice all by myself and do it to the bone.
If I am not the me I think I am, then who in God’s name am I?

A dear friend who was, when I first conceived of this poem, dying, has since passed on to his richly deserved reward in the next world. He was a dear man, a dedicated Bahá’í and the patriarch of a large and loving family. However, while Who? was inspired one evening as we were visiting him at his hospice and I was looking at the pictures of his life that his family had lovingly taped to the wall above him, it is not about him. Perhaps that poem is yet to be written.

The question of free will is of great importance to me. I had been reading Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge (highly recommended, by the way) and the issue was, and remains, much in my mind. This is the issue: where does the physical, deterministic brain end and the sense of the ephemeral self start? Where does this illusive ‘me’ come from? Who, as the title says, is in charge? The ‘me’ I think I am, or is it all hard wired in a subtle, but pre-set, brain?

You may think this an idle question, but it is not. Neuroscientests have, for example, shown that the area of your brain responsible for the motor control of raising your arm is excited before the area of your brain that makes the conscious decision to do the action is activated.  Is then, this ‘me’ I know an after thought? A construction of the brain to explain my own behavior?

This is a very scientific question with great spiritual ramifications. Free will is the very pith of the religious experience. It’s absence brings into doubt the structure of the whole spiritualization process, so answering this question is essential. For my part, I still believe in free will but confess that I am intrigued by the subtlety and complexity of how it comes about…an issue about which there is, as yet, no clear consensus, only much conjecture. But, as this poem proves,  the ‘me’ in me cannot stop thinking about it!

Thank you for reading Who? I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

5 Comments

Filed under Poetry

In this glass

Such a magical little thing is light
slipping quietly through clear water.
I wonder: what would we expect
if we could not expect,
(and expect to expect)
forgiveness?

The standard of conduct set by all the world’s major religions would be cruelly hard if not tempered with forgiveness. The standard expected by all the Messengers of God, and indeed the standard that They set in Their very own lives, resonates clear as the example that we should aspire to, and in aspiring to, being the best and the happiest that we can be. And yet, being human, only human—merely human—we will fail, and fail often. Forgiveness acts as the glue that holds our journey together, in the sense that it allows us to fail, but also then allows us to retry, and, hopefully, in the end, to succeed with whatever spiritual battle we are facing.

Thank you so much for reading In this glass. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry