Friday, April 10, 2009

Squeezed between two Jerusalems

People often talk about the ירושלים של מטה/Yerushalayim shel mata/"Earthly Jerusalem" and the ירושלים של מעלה/Yerushalayim shel ma'ala/"Heavenly Jerusalem." Not infrequently during my year here, I have felt that it is actually easier for me to connect with the latter when I am not plopped down right here in the former. This vision of a city of regal peace is easier for me to picture from the safer distance of several thousand miles. While many people feel closer to God, to a sense of peoplehood, to a sense of belonging and wonder here in this earthly city, I have more often found the contradictions between the city itself and what it stands for to be an unbearable strain.

But this tension felt right and even sweet to me at the end of our Passover seder. Gathered around the bed we had turned into a table (we seated ten folks rather comfortably), we sang "Next year in Jerusalem!' I have sung these words at every seder I have ever been to and was curious beforehand to see how they would ring when I was really here.

Pema Chodron in Start Where You Are writes of "the big squeeze" as "a discrepancy between your inspiration and the situation as it presents itself, the immediacy of the situation." For me, this big squeeze is מצרים/The Narrow Places. One reason we reenact our collective mythical emergence from these narrows, from slavery, is that in order to keep moving out of these narrow places, we first need to be willing to feel them, to be able to be fully present to them in ourselves, in those we care for, and in the world. As Pema writes: "It's the rub between those two things — the squeeze between reality and vision — that causes you to grow up, to wake up to be 100 percent decent, alive, and compassionate."

It is said that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche came to teach in the West because he realized that there was something powerful in working with students who already had two cars in their driveways and still weren't happy. Being physically in Jerusalem creates a similar effect for me: Here I am at the center of the world, longing for a more centered world, in the City of Peace, longing for a world of peace. While many poems have been written about the two Jerusalems, the verse that feels most resonant for me right now is actually from the 17th century Japanese poet, Basho. He wrote: "Even in Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo cry, I long for Kyoto."

The story of the Exodus is just that, it is a story about leaving, not a story about arrival. From a distance, we might imagine that this earthly Jerusalem (or another car in our driveway, or any number of other acquisitions) might really be the answer to all that ails us. But right up close I can most clearly discern that the longing itself, and our willingness to be with it, is what matters more.

Being here allows me to feel the distance between what we have and what we want most acutely. While for much of my time here that distance has been merely painful and unpleasant, at our seder it felt infused with meaning. It felt like an experience that will ultimately help me in my work in the world. I want to carry with me this knowing: Even in Jerusalem, telling my freedom tale, I long for Jerusalem.

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