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Leaving Home – Lessons in Listening by Ness Mountain

Leaving Home - Lessons in Listening by Ness Mountain

Ness MountainLeaving Home - The Touch of Stone, The Taste of Blood by Ness Mountain

If I whet My glittering sword, and My hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine adversaries, and will recompense them that hate Me. I will make Mine arrows drunk with blood, and My sword shall devour flesh; with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy. — Deuteronomy 32:41-42 In “The Tombs of Atuan”, by Le Guin, a young girl is raised to be the high priestess of a cult who worship a circle of ancient, evil, standing stones. She finds a friend, a wizard who is captive in the Tombs. They save each other. The temple is brought down, and as they leave, the girl reflects to her friend that all she knows are dances and rituals to the stones. She will have to begin life anew.

I read it at twelve, and though I hadn’t yet fled the temples of my grandfathers, it spoke to me. The young priestess haunted me. I felt akin to her. I still do.

My father took an easy way out: he left town, left his stiflingly Orthodox Jewish family, married an unorthodox Jewish woman, and became a part-time Jew, pretending Orthodoxy when he went back to Chicago. And like so many of his generation, he delivered up his sons to the local Sunday school, as if to say, “Teach them what I cannot; make them believe what I do not.”

Sunday school was a bloodless afternoon of menorahs and tuna fish. A deeply and rather darkly spiritual boy, I felt alone with God. It never occurred to me not to believe in Him. How could I not? He was in the bad news from Viet Nam, in the curtains, in the taste of blood when my head hit the pavement. At Sunday school, they tried to disguise the vengeful God of the Torah with latkes and sweet melodies, but He always soaked through. He drowned Noah’s people, He turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, He sent the Angel of Death to visit the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, taking the teenagers and the babies, in a long busy night of bloodshed. No God of Love, this One.

They could not hide Him from me. I knew Him and His bloody wars. But everyone else seemed so intent on ignoring His violence that I felt like a pariah, as if I alone had witnessed the rape and murder, and come home to tell it, only to hear that the subject was closed.

Reaching adulthood, I ran from Judaism, ran far. Years passed. I found a new life for myself, a new kind of spirituality: more amorphous, wordless, sometimes, but gentle and sweet. A whole new world. It grew. I shared it with my clients, my family; it became integrated with my life.

But this winter I went walking on a stormy evening, in an evil mood. I was raging. I felt darkness radiate from me, angry, uncompromising, grim. Why? I didn’t know. Just a feeling. But then I breathed deeply, and it came to me. I was possessed of the violent, heavy-handed old God I had run from. He was still with me.

I was only pretending to be done with Him. I had found curtains He didn’t like. I heard Him on the news, but I tried to act as if news of Israel does not ring my ribcage like a bell, vibrating with the thunder of the Old One. I wanted to be done with Him. I couldn’t forgive him.

As a kid, I needed a Divinity Who would care about me and talk with me. Who would be with me in my creativity and my loneliness. And Someone was there, of course, some loving helper. I was never alone. I never would have made it without Them. I give thanks for that, as wide and gracious as I am able.

I will try to forgive my parents, who introduced me to the Angry God, and I will try to forgive Him. He is in the news again, starting wars in the Middle East, but He need not be in my heart, or my curtains.

But in the touch of stone, the taste of blood, I guess, I will always know Him. Perhaps we will even make peace.

Ness Mountain is a counselor and urban shaman living in Portland. Comments on Leaving Home are welcome. Email Ness at [email protected].

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