Mourning the mother of a friend
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Zornberg and a cup of joe

My Wednesday morning clergy Torah study group has begun reading Avivah Zornberg's The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. (There's a terrific review in the Forward -- The Other Side of Silence: Listening Into the Bible.) We meet at the local coffee shop; greet people, order our coffee and bagels, sit down and schmooze a bit about whatever's unfolding in our lives; and then we make the bracha for Torah study and open our books.

Today we read maybe four pages, pausing to talk as we went. Zornberg is an amazing writer, and she frequently offers sentences which take my breath away. Beyond her prose, though, what's really amazing is the breadth and depth of her knowledge. Today we read (and talked) about language acquisition and fragmented consciousness, the birth metaphor in the expulsion from Eden, TS Eliot's J. Edgar Prufrock, Freud and psychoanalysis, connections between poetry and prophecy, the difference between Adam naming the animals (speaking their essence into being) and the kind of speech of which Adam was capable after he had eaten the fruit of the tree, God's desire to enter into language with us. Along the way we made frequent divagations into our own reflections on consciousness, language, childhood, nostalgia, union.

There's something very powerful about studying Zornberg's writings on desire, on language and on the unconscious at this season of mothering an almost-two-year-old. As I watch Drew acquire language, I marvel at the way he is soaking up new words -- and I know that the days of his delicious nonlinguistic babble are numbered. Once we have language, we can't recapture what it was like to be prelinguistic. He still inhabits a state of living entirely in the moment; that, too, is almost impossible to wholly re-enter once one has left it. Zornberg talks about the expulsion from Eden not (as common Christian parlance would have it) as a fall but as a movement-outward, a going-forth. Almost a birthing. "Paradise is lost, but a larger, if more agitated life looms." What a powerful metaphor that is for me.

I feel really fortunate to be part of this group and to have this weekly time set aside for learning Torah lishma, for its own sake. And I can tell that this is a book which will merit not only reading but rereading. "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it" indeed.