“And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promises and truth of God, which cannot deceive.” LUTHER’S WORKS, American Edition, 55 vols. Eds. Pelikan and Lehmann (St Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and fortress.) 45:70–71.
My sister Sonia is 84, and has been living in a Jewish old-age home for more than 20 years. She like all the Jews discussed here do not align themselves with the Bible or any branch of Judaism: they are “cultural” Jews. Sonia cannot do much for herself. Her favourite is chocolate which, if allowed, she would snarf all day. My second sister visits her always bearing chocs. She does not give it directly to Sonia but to the nurses, who, to Sonia’s chagrin, dole out a few morsels a day, because, they say, too much sugar is bad for her health. I told my second sister that she should let Sonia eat as much chocolate as she could afford to buy for Sonia. “But, she said, Sonia might die.” I replied, “So, she lives an extra few months – deprived.” I asked my second sister, “What do you think happens to you when you die?” She said she will rejoin Mommy and Daddy. I asked, “Will you see Jesus there?” She replied, “Of course not, he’s on a much higher plane.”
Although Christians believe that they will meet Jesus when they die, “higher planes” is not a Christian term. Christians (should) believe that it’s the work, the finished work of Christ, faith in Him, faith in His works, not ours, that reconciles us to God, that brings us into God’s presence on earth, and, in a much more intimate way, in heaven. Sonia also used to talk of higher planes. Years ago I asked Sonia whether she ever read the Bible. She said she had moved far beyond that.
In July 2006, when on holiday from Oman, where I was teaching at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, I visited Sonia at Highlands House, the Jewish home for the elderly situated in the “City Bowl” area of Cape Town. Cape Town seems to be quite small and neatly arranged. This is because of “Table Mountain” that surrounds the town centre and seems to hold the city in a bowl. For this reason, the terrain between Table mountain and the harbour is called the City Bowl. Highlands House is situated a stone’s throw from the mountain.
It was often difficult to get Sonia to talk about the past, but on this occasion, she was more relaxed. I wrote down our conversation verbatim.
Sonia’s words are in italics.
What school did you go to? She doesn’t answer the question. She gives me the name of five of her classmates who became doctors (medical doctors). For Yiddish Jews, you’re not a real doctor unless you’re a medical doctor. If you were thinking of visiting a certain place, my mother, Fanny (Yiddish, Feigele “little swallow”) would settle the issue with: “Die greste dokteirim geit dottern” (The greatest doctors go there).
I’m going to tell you how I became enlightened. I studied mysticism, the mystical way of life, since 1963, Goldsmith, a Jewish mystic.
In our family, Sonia threw out words like “infinite “divine”, “mystical.” They thought she was mad. She was an embarassment. What lay behind Goldsmith’s “Infinite way.”
Joel S. Goldsmith is described as one of the “great modern mystics – the American teacher, healer and lecturer.” Goldsmith’s “Infinite Way” is also called the “Circle of Christhood.” Here is an except from his book:
“The day is coming when there will be a band of Christhood around the world, a circle of Christhood. Not persons, not people – I’m not speaking of that. I’m speaking of a band of spiritual consciousness around the world. You know how it will get there? By these realizations of Christ. The Christ, as Browning tells us, is within ourselves, bottled up there, corked up. We must open out a way for that imprisoned splendor to escape.”
My whole life expanded. I don’t know where to begin. It’s not a thing you can study intellectually. The pupil is ready; the teacher appears. Who we are, our function on earth; can’t talk anymore; it just enfolds(unfolds?).” “Enfolds?” A spark of gnostic genius, perhaps.
Sonia shows me a poem she wrote.
It’s from the soul. Can’t snatch from outside, or hear about it, or copy it. I always loved writing. I’m waiting for the right time. My thoughts become potent and real, become colourful.
You have a fantastic way of expressing yourself.
Did you read the scriptures?
Didn’t need to, it just unfolded. I see things with such depth. I had an elocution teacher at Maitland High (School), Valda Adams, who went to Hollywood. I also wanted to help. I wrote a letter for Blanche in my class who was absent. I signed her father’s name. I was meant to be queen in a play. The teacher found out and I lost the part. The principal put me on his lap and said: “You’re a good girl but you must learn.”
I wrote an essay: “Good will and cooperation in South Africa.” The teachers thought it too advanced, but I wrote it from my heart. I left school to help Daddy in his business (See Bags, scrap metal, bottles and bare bones). I went, Sonia continues, to extramural lectures (in psychology).
Sonia then relates the time – more than 30 years later – when she went to Avrom, our nephew’s place for supper. Avrom is my brother Joe’s son. Avrom left South Africa more than 30 years ago for Australia, and is in the organic fruit business as well as being the Regional Director of the Jewish Defence League of Australia. Sonia describes Avrom’s cooking.
Black mushrooms grilled in garlic butter filled with delicious creamed spinach and topped with garlic white sauce. Peri-peri livers or plain and onions finished off in a delicious fresh tomato sauce.
Sonia then talked about our father, Issy:
I want to write a book about Daddy. Fantastic chef. He bought, he cooked, he presented.
Then about life at home:
Too full of sorrow. Daddy was not a thinker. Mommy was. He liked good food and getting his way. Gave her lots of babies.
I remembered the comment (in an official memo written in 1951) made by the Principal of the Cape Jewish Orphanage who said that my parents had “14 or 15 children.” My parents were described as people who have had 14 or 15 children, and are so brutish and self-centred that they are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. The principal went on to say that the Orphanage had five of the Gamaroff offspring until 1949 (I was one of these). They did not have 15 children; thet had 9 or 10. I think one died in early chldhood. See Cape Jewish Orphanage (8): And then there were fifteen).
Sonia then talked about her ex-husband, Israel. They divorced in the 1970s. He got sick in the late 1980s. Sonia went to stay with him and cared for him. Sonia continues:
I stayed with him to make him well. There was dust in his lungs. I loved to cook and heal. Nothing was too hard for me. Made him chicken and salads. He got better and better. He was healed. He was living in his air cocoon (in a lung machine? in his own world?).
There’s a chakra in your breast that protects you. Thank you Father (God), you know better. I won’t retaliate. I went through the university of life. I studied 40 years – and you can’t buy it for money. But now we are purified with God’s love. I’m all because of You. He is perfect. So are we. And any less than that, throw out.
If Sonia thinks she is perfect, then she is God, and thus, she exists on the highest plane. Recall my second sister who said that because of her imperfections, when she dies it will take a long time to reach the realm where Jesus lives. When I was in my teens my father told me that if he had to change, it could only be for worse. Divine perfection was my father.
What were these religious outpourings and unfoldings from Sonia? Was there method in Sonia’s theosophical mishmash? Theosophy is a religious philosophy originating with Helena Blavatsky. Theosophy teaches that all religions are attempts by the “Spiritual Hierarchy”, the “One Mind”, the “Overself” to help humanity evolve to greater perfection, where all religions have a measure of the truth.
The source of love, for the Jewish psychologist, Gerald Jampolsky, is within the eternal inner man. When you discover that source – through transforming your consciousness – you will discover that your fear was groundless. Here is Jampolsky in his “Love is letting go of fear”:
“…wouldn’t our lives be more meaningful if we looked at what has no beginning and no ending as our reality. Only love fits this definition of the eternal. Everything else is transitory and therefore meaningless…..fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing (p. 17)…all minds are joined…we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…Love is letting go of fear (.p.18)…we can choose our own reality. Because our will is free, we can choose to see and experience the truth (p. 21).”
Jampolsky’s God is the “Eternal common Self,” which is an Eastern metaphysic. “We can learn to receive direction from our inner intuitive voice, which is our guide to knowing (p. 28). The “inner intuitive voice” is the voice of the eternal common Self.
When I was a devout Catholic, I read the great Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was still wet behind the mystical ears, and didn’t know that you could be a good Catholic and a good Buddhist at the same time. According to Thomas Merton, Buddhism and Catholicism were two sides of the same coin, of the same Koinona (communion); they participate, according to Merton, in the same communion of divine fellowship. Each is a different door to human solidarity and brotherhood. The present Pope, Francis, says the same thing.
Buddha’s final words to his disciples were:
“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.”
Contrast that with the words of John the Baptist:
“He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John, 1:8). John the Baptist continued to proclaim that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John, 1:9).
Christ says “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ is the light. No human being has any light IN himself waiting to shine forth.
Here is an excerpt of an ABC-TV interview featuring Shirley Maclaine:
During an oceanside conversation, David presses her to stand up and assert the presence of the “God-truth” within. After suggesting several affirmations, he selects a powerful one for Shirley: “I am God.”
Timidly, she stands at the Pacific. Stretching out her arms, she mouths the words half-heartedly.
“Say it louder.”
Shirley blusters about this statement being a little too pompous. For him to make her chant those words is — well, it sounds so insufferably arrogant.
David’s answer cuts to the quick: “See how little you think of yourself?”
This deep insight embarrasses MacLaine into holy boldness. Intuitively, she comes to feel he’s right. Lifting both arms to the sky, she pumps it out — “I am God! I am God!” — as the ocean laps at her feet.
It didn’t come naturally to Maclaine. But to stand up in public and declaim it; that takes supernatural chutzpa.
I read much of Paul Brunton. I was surprised – but why should someone who is alert to the uncanny be surprised by anything – to discover that Paul Brunton was not only Jewish, but his original name was Raphael – Raphael Hurst. He was born in London from Jewish parents who had emigrated to England from Eastern Europe. His parents were part of the same wave of emigrants from Eastern Europe as my two sets of grandparents. Brunton’s parents stayed in England permanently. My grandparents came via England to South Africa.
Earlier we met the Jew, Joel Goldsmith, heading East on his “Infinite way” towards enlightenment. Now, we meet Raphael Hurst, another Wandering Jew wondering among the esoterica (Esoteric knowledge is knowledge only known to a few) of East and West. He was, if not the first, among the first to tailor Eastern philosophy to a Western audience. He said you don’t have to be a monk to be enlightened.
Why did Raphael Hurst change his name to Paul Brunton? Let me answer with another question? Who is going to read books about yogis, holy men and ancient Egyptian priests written by Raphael Hurst, unmistakably a Jewish boy? Although, in recent years it is has become respectable to be a “Jubu”: a Jewish Buddhist, as it has become chi-chi to be a “Cabu”: a Catholic Buddhist (Thomas Merton). Perhaps it had little to do with Raphael’s desire to hide his Jewishness and more to do with finding a name that is better suited to selling books. They do it in the movie business, so why not in the publishing business? For example, what kind of a name is David Kaminsky or Stewart Konigsberg if you want to be a great Jewish actor? Danny Kaye and Woody Allen would fit the bill. Imagine a Yiddishe mama saying to her gentile neighbour: my son de hekter Stewart Konigsberg. Compare that with: my son de hekter Voody Ellern.
What unites religions? “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” What divides religions: “I am God” (waiting to unfold in me) versus “I am a creature of God”. The one view is: “God is inside me; my spirit is eternal”. The opposite view is: “God, who is outside me, created me – both body and spirit, and I don’t find God; He finds me. I don’t look for God; He looks for me. I’m unable to look for God because I’m dead to the things of God.” That’s the New Testament view of the difference between the God inside waiting to unfold and the God outside taking up residence in you. How God comes to abide in you is the question that divides the monotheistic-creator religions. This “how” also is one of the major divisive points within Christianity, itself. (See Arminianism versus Calvinism).
In no domain other than religion do the prepositions “inside” and “outside” take on such great significance, eternal significance. What is considered as just another grammatical element of language – two prepositions among many others – is in reality of vast import. Language – every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – is of crucial import.
So, most religions and metaphysical systems such as Gnoticism fit into the “I am God” category. The three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam fit into the “I am a creature of God” category. For many in the monotheistic camp, this view of man as mere creature is too simplistic. For example, much of Christian and Jewish mysticism is about discovering that I and God are “ONE”. The quest is for ecstatic experiences, to BE, to be oneself, One Self, the One Self, the Overself (Brunton).
But what’s this I read in this papal encyclical?
In Hinduism, men…seek release from the trials of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism…proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help…. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (No.56, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Oct 28, 1965, in Documents of Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, Ed., New Revised Ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975, 1984) Para. 2.).
The Vatican seems to be emerging from its dogmatic stupor by recognising the divine in me. I feel a new energy rising in me. I leap across the boundaries that divide and cause so much strife.
My sister Sonia said she has gone far beyond the Bible. “It all unfolds.” Soon she will be standing before that terrifying majesty. “Out of the North He comes in golden splendour in his terrifying majesty” (Job 37:22).