Religion & Beliefs

Twice a Heretic

"Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh," we say to You in prayer, three times over. "Holy, Holy, Holy." And now I find myself before You, at thrice the age of a boy who has had his bar mitzvah. I cannot count the times … Read More

By / September 8, 2009

"Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh," we say to You in prayer, three times over. "Holy, Holy, Holy." And now I find myself before You, at thrice the age of a boy who has had his bar mitzvah. I cannot count the times over all these years that I have awakened and called out to You, still in my bed, that I stand before You, God. I have thanked You for the purity of my soul, for the wonders of my body. I have praised and exalted You, over and over again, in words of my own, in synagogue, joined with my people in common prayer, Sabbath after Sabbath, festival after festival, fast day after fast day. I’ve read psalms and even written them to You, as all of my friends have, calling out to You, O God of Israel. When I was twice the age of a bar mitzvah boy I remember asking the rabbi of my youth this question: "After all of these years of calling out to God, why hasn’t He called back?" The rabbi’s answer was simple. "To the prophet Elijah He spoke, we are told, in a still small voice." I knew nothing of still small voices. Our household was always filled with people, and our prayer halls are always jammed and noisy from men’s prayers. Curious about how I would ever hear that still small voice, I asked my Christian friend Rolando about silence, for I had heard that Christian monks spend long periods of time alone, silent, in prayer. He told me what he knew, gave me a book of his to read, which invoked the same passages about the still small voice. So I found places to still myself, in the attic, the cellar, in the synagogue at times when no one else was there. Once, feeling very brave, I asked Rolando if I could go to church with him, and he took me, at a time when mass was not being offered. He led me to a tiny chapel, where candles flickered before an image of a saint. I was nervous and yet curious. He knelt and I stood in silence. But I did not hear Your voice, God, although we remained there a long time, and I have tried, in the middle of the night, when I wake, to feel my way to You in the silence, to open myself up to You, in the silence. But You never spoke back to me, God, not one single time in all of those years. Once when we were boys, and he had just come back from mass, I remember Rolando telling me about the mystery of Jesus, how he was God Himself, come to earth, come into a human body. That he was born, suffered, and died for our sins. It did not make sense to me, why the Creator of all that is would have to do that. But it makes sense to me now. The first time I saw him, God, come into a room, I felt as if a comet had shot its way down from the heavens, down across the sky, sending its fiery tail out behind it, illuminating the night. I felt as if that comet had flared its way across the sky and then careening downward, had slammed into my chest with the force of a gigantic cannon ball, crumbling my defenses, smashing through all of my protective walls, setting me on fire. Each time that I saw him, God, walking in the city, in the market, in the bathhouse, I burned. And if I saw him with any other men, such rage flamed up in me that I feared for my actions. And I ran from him, turned my back and fled each time I saw him. I am not a boy, God, as you know, and this foolish youthful passion is unseemly. So why did You do this to me?  Why didn’t You just speak, as You spoke to the prophets, directly, or spoke to the rabbis of old, in a lesser voice, which we call the daughter of a voice? God, I would fall to my knees before You if you spoke to me in the great great granddaughter of a voice, in a voice so tiny that it would make a whisper sound like waves crashing on the shore, or the crack of lightning shattering the sky, or the thunder of horses across a plain, pulling iron chariots. Instead, you have come to me this way, turning me into a Christian. For now I understand what Rolando was telling me all of those years ago. You do enter the world. You can be born. But this time it is me who suffers, me who is dying, me who yearns to sin and live for my sins. What madness, to be twice a heretic, for now I believe like a Christian and not a Jew. But I cannot join their church for I do not believe that Yesu was Your only begotten Son, but Abdul. Abdul ibn Rachman, the son of a minister to the king. Abdul ibn Rachman, even his name sends shivers through me. I ran from him. You know that I did. I turned and ran, double heretic that I am, falling in love with a Muslim. And now yesterday, in a voice so loud that I could not deny it, You called out to me through him, and I ran to You. A cart out of control, thundering down the Street of the Tailors, just as I was passing. I heard it before I saw it, and I threw myself up against a wall as it passed. But there ahead, there was a crowd. They too did the same, all of them, press themselves flat against a wall. But the horse was wild, and the cart was rocking from side to side, and a single man with his back to me was struck as the cart shuddered by. I saw it rip into his shoulder, and I heard his scream. Being a physician I ran toward him, as he fell into the street, holding his shoulder, in agony. A woman beside him began to scream for help, as I fell to the ground beside the fallen man. "I’m a doctor," I said to him, as I lay a gentle hand upon his back. "You’re going to be all right." I did not know that. It’s something that we always say. You know that. So I said it, as I slipped a hand down his back and slowly lowered him to the street. You did this to me, God. This is the way that you have answered all of my years of prayer. For when I turned him from his side to his back, it was those same dark eyes looking up at me, now in terror. I pulled my shawl off, rolled it up and quickly put it beneath his head. He smiled at me weakly, upside down. I told him I had seen what had happened, and asked him how his shoulder was. He winced as he tried to move his left arm toward his right, to feel from the outside what I knew from his grimace must be very painful. Was his shoulder dislocated, broken, torn? Blood was seeping through his clothing. I was about to say something else when two servants came running through the crowd which had gathered. They were servants of his father’s. But You know that. You know how they gently lifted him and carried him back to his father’s house, and how I followed them. And You know how all the way there he clenched my hand and would not let go, and how each time the servants slipped or loosened their grip on him, he would shudder, wince, cry out in pain. Later, when I had examined him and found out that nothing was broken but skin, nothing dislocated but our hearts, he told me that he was ashamed that he’d cried out. And I said to him, "Every cry is a prayer." And he said, "This is the first cry of mine that has ever been answered." Surely this is a sign from You, that two men find each other who have been looking for You without success, who find You in each other. And so I say, thank you.