Like my page and make comments on Facebook! (and share with others)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Psalm for Monday. Psalm 48, verse 7

רעדה אחזתם שם חיל כיולדה
7. Trembling seized them there, an anguish like that of giving birth.

Faced with something unexpected in the last verse, our human instinct is to flee.  But in fleeing the uncertain we also often flee from that which can actually provide us with support: God and community.  Guided by the ego and the need for self-preservation, we run alone away  from some unseen enemy.  

Suddenly, we begin to shake uncontrollably.  We are grasped, not by just shock and surprise, but by fear.  We don't know what to do.  We stop running and fall to the ground writhing in pain like one about to give birth.  That is the powerful image found in this verse.  And the choice of words the psalmist used is quite telling.

רעדה Ra'adah is translated in some places as fear.  But it's root is not the word for fear.  Rather, the word refers to the uncontrollable trembling that can come when fear overtakes us.   אחזתם Ahazatam comes from the word meaning to seize, take hold or take possession.  This trembling in response to  an overwhelming sense of fear isn't simply felt or experienced.  Instead, it is as if an outside force has grabbed us and is taking control of us.  Like some kind of demonic possession, the trembling invades every aspect of our being - body and soul.  And this brings about pain so intensely felt, that it can only be likened to the pains of childbirth.

As an aside, it fascinated me that many of the translations render the final phrase as "like a woman in childbirth."  To translate the verse this way brings in a sexist dimension, as it implies that this trembling in pain is something that is seen as "feminine."  A man would not experience it this way.  At least that's my reading, especially since the word 'woman' is nowhere to be found in the text.

Though obviously, childbirth can only be experienced by a woman, this metaphor transcends any kind of gender or sexual identity or stereotype.  It is something universal.  It is something we all experience at one time or another.  A sense of facing the unknown and feeling such terror that we cannot move.  It's as if something has taken hold of us and we are frozen where we are, trembling with fear.  

But does this experience usually bring about the kind of pain of which the psalmist speaks?  Is it necessary to shift the image from that of surprise, shock and fear to that of the pains of childbirth?  Isn't this a bit hyperbolic?  Maybe not.

For perhaps the psalmist is telling us that we need to go to this place of pain.  If this kind of fear does not cause us pain, then we aren't really allowing ourselves to experience it.  We are still running from it.  

If we acknowledge the reality of what has seized us.  If we stop in our tracks and experience it, we can then truly feel the fear as well as the pain caused by the sense of separation from any sense of oneness and connection with God and the universe.  We are utterly alone.  No one is there with us.  Our ego has done it's job and convinced us that we can do it alone.  But we cannot. No one really can.  And it is this realization that - if we allow ourselves to truly experience it - can metaphorically or actually throw us to the ground writhing in pain.

But it is necessary pain.   It is pain that awakens us to the truth of the moment.  It is pain that makes us realize that we have been tricked by the ego again.  And so we must banish it.  And in banishing the ego and its tricks, it is as if we are not only being born anew, but we are giving birth to a new person.  For ultimately this is not a negative or pessimistic verse.  For it does not speak of the pains of death or devastation, but the pains of childbirth. And those pains ultimately bring new life into the world.

It would be nice if we didn't need to experience fear and pain in order to awaken the essential need for connection to that which links together the entire universe.  But, as my teacher R. Sheila Weinberg teaches "pain is necessary, suffering is optional".   And the pain described above can easily cross the boundary into suffering if we try to ignore it or continue to run away from it.  But if we stop our running and allow ourselves to feel the pain, it will not turn into suffering.  We can then move past it and to a place of joy and rebirth.  A place where we are at one with the Divine and the Universe and where we can bring to life the words of another psalm: "may those who sow in tears reap in joy (Ps. 126:5)."  Let it be so for us all.

1 comment:

juneaudog said...

There is a wonderful book by Joan Chittister called "Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope". It has added to the conversation about the worthiness of pain in my life.

Follow by Email

Blog Archive

Blogs That I Try to Follow