Julian Barnes’ Book Nothing to Be Frightened Of begins with these words: “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” That’s how I’ve felt since seven years ago when I quite simply woke up one day and found the spiritual spigot had turned itself off. Three decades of faith had disappeared like sunburn. I had lost all belief in an interested deity, after life, karma, reincarnation and an array of other systems that had kept me buoyed and navigated for most of my conscious life.
Despite the popularity of the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and others, I wasn’t about to declare myself an atheist; just being a Democrat is fraught enough at family gatherings. If pressed, I say I bow respectfully to the great unknown. And I do, every morning. For although my faith has self-dismantled, I’ve left the little pujas —my altars— intact. There is one on my desk, another on a nearby bookshelf. They hold flowers, a silk cloth and the images of Hindu deities: Lakshmi, Ganesh, Saraswati and Hanuman. Each morning, after firing up the computer, I light incense and offer the day and its work. I don’t believe that any personal god or goddess hears me, but the representative images promote mindfulness for me and help clear my head for work and concentration.
I think being godless has also helped me contemplate impermanence with more equanimity. It has quieted some of the chatter in meditation and made me feel less-dualistic, more intrinsically connected to every atom in the seen and unseen. In many ways, it makes me feel braver. And despite god’s absence, I still concur with the Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche who writes in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying “that life is inherently sacred and must be lived with sacred intensity and purpose.”
It is certainly intensity and purpose—a fierce bravery—that unites every single work in this issue of Tiferet. The heroic willingness of each writer and artist to hurl themselves on the page, canvas or pixel in their pursuit of the deepest honesty of expression. Phyllis Barber’s essay, “In the Body of the Serpent,” deconstructs primeval and cultural fears and braves a hallucinatory transcendence. David Del Bourgo spars with the great trickster coyote, in his poem “Graff.” The excerpts from Daniel Tobin’s book-length poem about cosmology is a willingness to address nothing less than the origin of the universe! Diane Lockward’s poem deals with a quieter but nonetheless profound subject—the passage of time. And Elena Malec boldly summons the mystery of the Mayans and their calendar. These are just some of the works you’ll find inside. There is so much more—reviews, poetry translated from English to Italian, fiction…. We know you will enjoy the breadth of the work and we think you’ll be touched by the spiritual daring in all of it.
Swaha, it is offered—to the Great Unknown.
This is a small representation of the high-quality writings you’ll find in every issue of TIFERET.
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What a beautiful write-up, Diane. Thank you!