The Noise of Holiness
Gwen Harwood’s marvelous poem on death ends:
[Death]’ll wear my face and yours.
Not as we were, thank God. As we shall be
When we let go of the world, late ripe fruit falling.
What we are is beyond him utterly.
As wonderful as her poem may be, I do not search for holiness in the moment, “When we let go of the world, late ripe fruit falling.” I look for holiness in the way I grab life, every vibrant moment of struggling and achieving, failing and succeeding. I want to be “beyond him (death) utterly” in every moment of my life, even while grabbing.
Perhaps that is why the Torah commands us, “Kedoshim tihiyu,” “Be Holy,” with the stress on the being, on living, on thriving, on reaching.
I read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain when I was quite young. I was so moved by his description of living in a Trappist Monastery where everyone lived in silence that I asked my father whether there was a Jewish version of such a place. “Of course,” he said, “It’s called Gehinnom, hell.”
I was shocked, “Hell?”
“Yes. Torah does not thrive in hiding in silence, but in the loud noise of the Beit Midrash and life. Holiness is in the noise of a large family arguing and playing. Holiness is loud and powerful. Come with me.”
He drove me to the home of a very old man whose face was shining even in the eyes of a young boy. The man projected joy and, yes, holiness. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren were all around him, cooking, playing, and making an awful lot of noise. I cannot tell you why or how, but his holiness was louder than anything else.
He was a Holocaust survivor who credited his survival to his ability to be happy in every extra minute that he survived. He was not a scholar. He was not what we usually would describe as an especially righteous man. But he was holy. He lived a holy life. He focused on the “Being,” and found a rare form of holiness.
The sound of his holiness still echoes in my mind almost forty years later. It was a very loud sound.
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