Monday, May 31, 2010

The Book of Job: Divine Banishment from the Commonplace

THE STORY OF JOB: Divine Banishment from the Commonplace

The story of Job is an approach to madness or falling apart that is very different than our modern American approach. We see madness as the result of sin, disease or something being "wrong" with someone. Madness needs to be cured, fixed or healed. Most of us see no real benefit to going a little or a lot mad. It has not always been so as seen in this 4th century BC quote from Plato:

"It is not an invariable truth that madness is evil--in reality the greatest blessings come by way of madness, of madness that's heaven sent--this madness comes not from mortal weakness or diseases--but by way of a Divine Banishment from the Commonplace." From Plato’s Phaedra

Plato recognizes that there are times madness is a curse, a disease and sent from a destructive place. However, he also suggests that there is a "method in madness," a purposive insanity, a heavenly falling apart. I have spent the past five months immersed in the Book of Job. This is a story about devastation, disintegration, dissolution, falling apart or madness. The dictionary defines madness as the state of insanity, frenzy, rage or intense excitement. We find all of those qualities in Job.

The story of Job explores the Hell of eviscerating emotions and the insane thinking that comes with the experiences of unimaginable loss. The Greeks called it madness. Moderns call it insanity. The word ‘sanus’ means whole, and insanity means falling apart. We all experience it at one time or another.

I have found in Job an "approach" to suffering. Most historians think the book was written immediately after Judah's Babylonian captivity in 600 B.C. The Jews lost their homes, cities, temple, religion, land, wealth, children, wives, husbands and physical well being. Job may have been a real person, but it doesn't matter. When I call Job an "approach to suffering" I mean that the content is not the main point of the story. Job’s deeply emotional, brutally honest and bitter complaining are the keys to the story. The aftermath of devastating losses is always messy. That’s the point—disorder anticipating a new order. This is symbolized by Job sitting in a shit-filled garbage heap scraping the festering physical and emotional wounds oozing infection and stench. Job’s long-winded three friends can be taken internally as the many confusing voices in our heads after a tragedy. Or the friends can be viewed literally as acquaintances and a society that give some good advice, some stupid advice, some well intended but misguided compassion as well as many standard views regarding suffering--and much more.

But Job would not acquiesce. He expressed himself honestly until HIS soul found resolution. He didn't care about spiritual convention or "right answers." He would not join the herd or resort to old age or new age adages. Ironically, the clichés were often right, but they didn't LIVE in his soul. He had to KNOW for himself, not hear from others—SEE for himself, not believe in stale spirituality or psychology. That kind of “knowing-for-oneself” always comes by moving through the emotions, plodding through the nightmare of the event and by being honest to God. Self help books, seminar formulas and borrowed solutions may provide food for consideration, but they do not give answers. The Jack-o-lantern of one’s individual soul has to be carved from the raw pumpkin one gut-wrenching scoop at a time.

Finally, after endless cycles of emotional venting, Job sees and meets his "new God-image." The point of such disintegrations is to cause our old experience of God to dissolve in order that we might expand the boundary that contains our spacious souls. It is significant that God speaks to Job from the same windstorm that blew down the house that killed his kids. You can count on the fact that the event that destroys you is the event that re-creates you--but there is no guaranteed outcome of that re-creation. Some people become bitter, helpless, hopeless invalids. Some go numb by using drugs, work or entertainment; others sink back into a comfortable church pew, nodding unconsciously to the same old religious clichés. Others, like Job, make themselves available to fall completely apart, and eventually come back together. They put their hands over their mouths in stunned silence and allow as much time as needed for their new God to emerge from the devastation.

I think the happy ending of Job is a little too neat, but I also like the Hebrew philosophy that teaches there is purpose in all suffering. The Book of Job has provided me with a tiny thread sticking out of a ball of often tangled and meaningless cosmic yarn. Job has no "answers," but has provided me with a perspective, with the ability to follow the thread of madness, and follow it to wherever it leads my individual soul on its unique journey of Soul-making.

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