Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Learning and Suffering

Once again, Rachel of the Velveteen Rabbi has made me stop and think about my own beliefs, my own methods of worship and praise. She's very good at that. That's why I read her journal, of course!

In today's entry, she wrote about the Jews crossing the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of the Egyptians. The story venerates their God for saving them, but also goes on about the violence he called down upon the Egyptians, killing them “horse and rider,” drowning them. Rachel's community only sings the more positive parts of the poem, leaving the violent bits to the one leading, because, “ . . . I've always understood that we fall silent at that point because after these opening lines the poem gets violent, and that's not the aspect of God we want to glorify.

That made me pause. One of the topics that comes up often enough in the Hellenic discussion lists and forums, is the question of whether we venerate the violent or unethical (by our standards at least) actions of our gods in myth. My usual example is Zeus – do we accept his philandering and sing praises to it? Do we sweep it under the rug and call it allegorical? What about Hera's abuse of Hephaestus as a child, or her hatred of Zeus's offspring by other females? Aphrodite's bed-hopping proclivities? Hestia's overweening submission? Dionysos' penchant for rape?

Rachel has hit on it, though. Whether these are truth or myth or something else entirely, doesn't matter. We should be aware of the flaws, or what we perceive as flaws, but not hold them up as acceptable, either. As Rachel states, “ . . . that's not the aspect of God we want to glorify.” I agree, wholeheartedly. Myths and legends teach us many lessons, and sometimes they teach us what NOT to do.

Rachel also goes on to talk of how her God chastised the angels for wishing to sing a hymn when the Egyptians were killed. He considers all people, Egyptians too, to be his children, and singing hymns or hosannas at their death is just wrong. She says that the Jews need to, “ . . . remind ourselves that because others perished, our joy in our liberation can never be complete.

These words, too, struck me as very wise. Can any of us be completely happy, knowing that others have suffered on our behalf? Americans are giving their lives in other countries right now to secure our own peace at home. The people in Gaza suffer horribly during their own crises. Right here at home, Native Americans were once pushed out of their ancestral lands because Europeans considered them savages.

I think I need to take time tonight, and offering up prayers of thanks to my gods for the things that I have, and the family that loves me.
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