The month of Adar, month of joy in the Hebrew calendar, began for me one week ago with a sighting of a few families of dolphins swimming happily in the frigid ocean. I am spending a week by the rather stormy Atlantic, and despite the weather have been able to watch large birds fly over the water, medium birds fly high and plunge down into the water, and small birds with long beaks run into the very shallow water, all of them in search of fish. I am a human, and as such can only see the surface of the water. What lies beneath it is a matter of the imagination, fueled by memories of diving, nature films and dreams. Watching the birds, sighting those dolphins, has given my imaginings a taste of what lies hidden from my eyes. Every time I see the dolphins the reality of the depths, which my mind long knows to exist, is in plain view for half a second; and I am filled with joy.
It is what the Psalmist calls a “zecher,” a faint memory, or a trace;
זֶכֶר רַב טוּבְךָ יַבִּיעוּ, וְצִדְקָתְךָ יְרַנֵּנוּ
So many hidden footprints
Springs of Your goodness
Singing joy, singing justice.
Not all things hidden are happy revelations of course. I am reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the great American novels on the topic of faith. Thornton Wilder, the wild genius takes a headline: a bridge collapsed in Peru and five people were killed, and then proceeds to reveal the lives of those five people, and the moment in their lives in which they died. It is a mining of the richness of every human being, a revealing of what we know but is hidden from us: that every person who died this week in Texas, or from Covid, or any other piece of information that we see as a line in an article, is a whole world. This is sad of course, but I prefer to live with the knowledge that I am surrounded by richness rather than vacantness. In the moments that I know I live with rich, beautiful, complex realities, when I can know that much is hidden from me even if I may be obsessed with what I see and experience, in those moments I am less alone, more content, part of a whole.
There is a group of psalms composed by the descendants of the Torah’s greatest renegade, Korach, who challenged Moses and in turn was swallowed by the earth. The Midrash tells us that Korach and his followers now live at the deepest, darkest place in the bottom of the ocean. The first of these poems, Psalm 42 expresses an awareness, even within the abyss of despair, to the hidden realities at play, and a certainty that they will be revealed to us. Those will be happy moments, grateful moments, quiet moments. I will leave you with the Psalm and its continued return to the image of water, which even our souls are likened to.
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my bread day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.
Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.