Soul and Spirit

We had the following poem — written by the founder of Prophetic Kabbalah, I later learned — as the second lesson at last Sunday’s 7pm service at church.

(Our 7pm Sunday service is what I like to call “trinitarian universalist,” but maybe only because I like to call myself that, too. It has a “psalm” that is often from another tradition than Hebrew scripture; three readings, one of which is the gospel lesson for the day, the other two being usually a piece of poetry, as below, and an excerpt of prose from some other source. This is all followed by a brief reflection on the readings from the clergy, 10 minutes of silent meditation, and then a basic “Rite III,” stand-round-the-altar Eucharist.)

And YHVH spoke to me when I saw His name

by Rabbi Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia

English version by Peter Cole
Original Language Hebrew

And YHVH spoke to me when I saw His name
spelled out and merged with the blood in my heart,
separating blood from ink and ink from blood:
and YHVH said to me: Behold,
blood is the name of your soul, and ink the name of your spirit:
your father and mother are vessels for my name and a sign.
And then I fathomed the tremendous difference between
my spirit and soul, and a great joy came through me.
For I knew my soul was dwelling in the redness as blood,
and my spirit was dwelling in the blackness as ink.
And there raged a war in my heart between
the blood and the ink: the blood from the wind
and the ink from dust, and the black ink
over the blood was victorious —
as the Sabbath subdues all days of the week.

And so my heart rested within me — and I offer
praise to the Lord, to the Name in my heart forever.

—from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, edited by Peter Cole

This floored me during the service and continues to. First of all, a distinction between “soul” and “spirit”! A theory of special relativity and a theory of general relativity for the numinous of us and for what we are of?

And then the written name of God, the Tetragrammaton — the Great Existence: “I AM.” (I feel as though I’ve only ever seen that in all caps; I’ll have to check some Bible translations to see if that’s usually so.)

Of course, as with reading Isaiah (or hearing his words sung in British baroque oratorio), I can’t help but read back in my trinitarian experience of God: power of the name of God, the Word of God (or Logos), and the Spirit of God that moved over the dark waters of chaos when the universe — when What Is — came into Being in a way that could be, with the eventual advent of humans, aware of Itself.

Black ink — the spirit of God — putting my blood, my soul, my temporal, spatial awareness of my own existence, as well as all other things, in subjection under the ink, the Name, the Word, Logos — “as the Sabbath subdues all days of the week.”

It seems useful to quote from the Wikipedia entry on “Logos (Christianity)“:

Theologian Stephen L. Harris claims the author of John adapted Philo‘s concept of the Logos, identifying Jesus as an incarnation of the divine Logos that formed the universe (cf. Proverbs 8:22-36).

  • Jews. To the rabbis who spoke of the Torah (Law) as preexistent, as God’s instrument in creation, and is the source of light and life, John replied that these claims apply rather to the Logos.
  • Gnostics. To the Gnostics who would deny a real incarnation, John’s answer was most emphatic: “the Word became flesh.” [Jn 1:14]
  • Followers of John the Baptist. To those who stopped with John the Baptist, he made it clear that John was not the Light but only witness to the Light.

It’s always tricky to talk about Christianity as it relates generally to (and specifically in the first-century to) Judaism. We can’t explore the implications or connections of our beliefs without the context of the monotheism it began as a sect of. We can’t explore the person, teachings of, and earliest beliefs about Jesus very deeply without the context of his faith and the society in which he expressed and lived it.

So it may be even more difficult — it might even be considered offensive — to continue that exploration in the context of Jesus’ religion more than 1,000 years after my religion and Jesus’ religion diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one more travelled by.

However, I suspect that Rabbi Abulafia, the medieval Spanish mystic who ventured to Rome with the intent of converting Pope Nicholas III to Judaism — !!! —would not be distressed at my efforts. Like his co-religionists Jesus and Jacob, Rabbi Abulafia sounds like he didn’t shy away from a good wrestling match.

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