Like so many others, I learned this jingle, actually the opening of a lovely poem by Joseph Parry, during a brief stint in the Girl Scouts when I was nine or ten. I’m not sure I understood it then—what was wine, after all? what did it mean for it to “mellow and refine”?—but the words stayed with me, echoing unbidden through the years and shaping many of my choices.
The first time I came across the phrase, I thought I must be making a mistake. “Que Dieu l’enveloppe dans sa matrice,” the passage read in French, “May God’s womb enfold her.” or possibly, “May God enfold her in His womb.” His womb?
When my parents left Egypt, they left behind everything they’d grown up with, all the objects that carried their deepest associations and memories. They taught me to scorn such “things”—what others value as mementos or souvenirs—rightly reasoning they can be lost in a moment. But while we have them, it is lovely, I’m learning, to let the spirits embedded within them, the memories and feelings they evoke, surround and comfort us. As I move through this house, I feel bound to my own and others’ histories, embedded in a rich and complex life that nurtures and sustains me. And as I sit still and knit, I sense that I am knitting (knotting) up the by now long, loose threads of my own life, shaping them into a coherent and satisfying whole.
Glimpsing La Vièio ié Danso – “The Untouchable Wild Goddess” – in Jóusè d’Arbaud’s Beast of Vacarés by Joyce Zonana
Nearly a century later, d’Arbaud’s words still have the power to startle and delight, vividly evoking Earth’s sacredness.
Toward the end of her complex odyssey, Anna finds herself alone in an ancient Istanbul synagogue, where at long last she unreservedly “name[s] herself” a Jew and experiences connection with a God that “fuse[s] both male and female” and “from that wholeness birth[s] mercy and love.” Vowing to work to “help repair [the] world”–tikkun olam–she moves forward to face her life with a “sense of wholeness” that had eluded her for so long.
Ever since I first read it when I was sixteen, I have loved Homer’s Odyssey. For many years I was lucky enough to teach it almost every semester, and so I came to know it intimately. Despite the valid feminist critique of the ancient Greek epic—that it glorifies patriarchy, justifying and perpetuating men’s control over women—I still find it to be an inspiring evocation of female autonomy and power, both human and divine. Especially divine.
All along, I’ve believed that Malicroix had something important to offer English-speaking readers: an embrace of solitude, a profound connection with nature, a bold exploration of dream-states. And right now it seems to resonate with our current moment of introspection and reassessment of priorities.
When I made my breakfast, Ginger watched and waited for his own; when I worked at my desk, he slept beside me or walked across my keyboard; when I relaxed in front of the TV in the evening, he immediately jumped onto the couch and curled up in my lap. I prided myself on living alone, on my solitude—but in fact I was never alone. The cat was a constant presence in my life, a silent witness to all my actions, my deeply intimate, silent companion.
It should have been a wonderful journey, organized by three dear friends who run a yoga center in Costa Rica. I would be traveling with my husband, these friends, and thirteen other like-minded folk to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes highlands of southern Peru. We’d be staying at a lovely retreat center just outside Pisac, an ancient market town encircled by imposing mountains. And our itinerary would take us to some of the most important Inca sites, including the iconic, hauntingly beautiful and remote Machu Picchu.
Our visit to Poland coincides with the Feast of the Assumption, a time when tens of thousands of pilgrims arrive on foot to pay homage to Our Lady of Częstochowa, Poland’s Black Madonna. I too am a pilgrim, visiting the sites, not of miracles but of martyrdom. As I make my way through what Pope John Paul II called “this Golgotha of modern times,” I am overcome; like him, I “am here kneeling down” to implore Our Lady to help us heal the vast, still open wound that is our life on this earth.
Although Goddess traditions invite us to embrace a world of immanence and change, rather than to seek to escape into transcendence—which some yoga teachings seem to point toward—I have come to believe that the “still point,” is, as Eliot writes, where “the dance is.” In other words, daily practice might grant us the capacity to always move through the world with grace and joy. The mind will be steady as it encounters and embraces the turning world. We will be whole.
Passover is a holiday of remembrance, of ritual re-enactment: this, we say, is what our ancestors experienced. This is what they felt and knew, what they tasted in their blood. The movement from slavery to liberation, from the soul’s winter to spring. We must never forget, we say, we must always remember, be thankful for our freedom, never take it for granted. “In each generation,” the Haggadah enjoins, “we should feel as if we personally had come out of Egypt.”
And so is born the “monster” most people associate with the name Frankenstein–a lone and lonely terrorist who lashes out against a world that has no place for him. One by one, he strangles all the people his “maker” holds dear: his brother William, his best friend Clerval, and his cousin/bride Elizabeth. Yet the novel invites us to have compassion for the creature, even while it condemns the society that makes him as he is. Victor, raised by a devoted mother and tenderly loved by a doting cousin, should have known better. As should we.
As I follow my program, I grow clearer and stronger. I know exactly what I want and I take it. When I sit down to eat, I feel my appetite, healthy and strong. I feed that appetite, choosing just what I need and what will truly nurture me. When I get up from the table, I am complete and whole within myself. Whether I reach my “goal weight” or not, I’ve already succeeded. And so, this New Year, I won’t be making any new resolutions. I’m already on my path, shedding shame.
Samhain is upon us. Halloween. The Day of the Dead. All Saints’ Day. All Souls’ Day. That liminal time of year when the doorways to what the Celts called the Otherworld, Annwn in Welsh, are open. In New York City, we have the 45th annual Village Halloween Parade, a queer extravaganza of puppetry, masquerade, and cross-dressing that draws some 60,000 participants and over 2 million onlookers. Elsewhere, we have children in costume and lawns covered with plastic skeletons and illuminated ghouls. Everywhere, if we’re lucky, we might catch a glimpse of “the piper at the gates of dawn,” the vision granted Rat and Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows: “something very surprising and splendid and beautiful”—Pan the goat-god, boundary-crosser, Friend and Helper, trans-being.
What does it mean to be an Arab-Jew in the twenty-first century? For me, it means recognizing and honoring Arab culture: the music, food, language, and customs my parents brought with them when they emigrated from Cairo in 1952; it means feeling a strong bond with other Egyptians, North Africans, and Middle Easterners, refusing efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere to demonize and “other” any of us. It means respecting the claims of displaced Palestinians and protesting Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. It also means not seeking to equate our displacement with Palestinian displacement, as some Jews from Arab countries have sought to do, in a transparent effort to discredit Palestinian suffering.
In order to transform what is happening at the Mexico/U.S. “border” (and elsewhere) we must first break down the borders within our heads—all the borders in all our heads. Mr. Trump tells us “If you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country”; my response today is: “Who needs countries? Who needs genders? Who needs races or competing religions? What we need is Coatlicue.”
Bless This House: Creating Sacred Space Where You Live, Work & Travel by Mama Donna Henes – A Book Review by Joyce Zonana
“There is no such thing as a bad blessing,” Mama Donna tell us, “no rules . . . no recipes, no prescriptions, no instruction manuals,” no “one-size-fits-all” House Blessing. Yet it’s not so much “anything goes” as “everything matters”: “The only thing you can do wrong in a ritual is to not pay attention to your true intentions.”
Aurora’s autobiographical narrative is a passionate paean to poets as the “only truth-tellers, now left to God”; she celebrates them as agents for personal and social transformation. As we come to the end of this National Poetry Month in the U.S., where truth is under siege, it’s worth recalling Aurora Leigh and its daring exploration of poetry, gender, divinity, and social justice.
Forty years ago, I abandoned my own inner quest to establish myself as a writer/translator, discouraged by the voices of publishers who told me the book was unmarketable, worried about making a living and reassuring my family (whom I had broken from when I was seventeen) that I was “okay.” I chose the relatively safer path of becoming an English professor, and I worked for more than thirty years helping others to find their voices. I do not regret taking that path. It has led me here.
The Book of Esther tells a story in which women’s power is not so much repressed as asserted. The king who banishes one queen finds himself submitting to the will of another. Numerous women writers of various ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries have found inspiration in the stories of both Esther and Vashti’s disobedience to an autocratic king.
A few days ago, at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY, I purchased a six-ounce skein of fine, reddish-pink mohair bouclé, directly from the woman who’d dyed it using the natural pigments cochineal and logwood. My… Read More ›
I had few expectations before my visit in the winter of 1999 to Cairo’s Rav Moshe Synagogue, also called the “Rambam.” I only knew it to be an obscure synagogue and yeshiva associated with the renowned twelfth-century theologian, sage, and physician,… Read More ›
In her 1975 manifesto, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” French feminist Hélène Cixous urges women to write: “Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. . . . Women must write through their bodies,… Read More ›
Never has it been more difficult for me to affirm that “love trumps hate” as during this unprecedented United States election season. After watching the Republican Convention last July in mute horror, I took to bed for several days, overwhelmed… Read More ›
O Sainte Marie-Jacobe, priez pour nous. O Sainte Marie-Salome, priez pour nous. O gardeures de la Provence, priez pour nous. The priest intoned the words in deep, liquid accents, his voice echoing from the ancient stone church in the remote village… Read More ›