V. V. Raman's Reflections On Water is presented in collaboration with the Religion Department Of The Chautauqua Institution.
The week of July 15-22 The Interfaith Lectures are focusing on Water: Life Source / Life Force.
There are aliens among us, and you may be one of them. The Bible speaks of these aliens in Genesis 1: Having completed the creation of the natural world, God decided to create women and men in God's image. Whereas everything else in the created world is fashioned within the cosmos, people are created in some liminal space and plopped on the earth to rule over her -- alien invaders set on expansion and domination (Genesis 1:26-28).
Aliens believe they are in the world, but not of the world. They long for heaven, dream of rapture, and too often promote martyrdom and homicide as ways of hastening their entry into the extra-planetary paradise they believe is their due. Aliens are alienated from the earth, feel no obligation to nature and exploit her remorselessly.
Aliens frighten me.
I prefer the company of earthlings, organic beings drawn up from the earth to serve creation rather than dominate it. The Bible speaks of these earthlings in Genesis 2: the earth was lifeless and bare for there was as yet no water to moisten the soil and no gardeners to till it. So God caused a mist to rise up from the ground, and took from the freshly made mud and formed an earthling. God breathed into this mixture of water and earth and it became aware (Genesis 2:4-7). Aware of what? Aware of itself as mud, aware of its task as midwife to nature's creativity, aware of itself as speaker for the sea and the land and all their inhabitants.
Earthlings give me hope.
But my hope is contingent upon their ability to continually till the soil, to break up the hard lifeless clumps of barrenness and allow the waters to moisten and the air to enliven and the creative to rise and birth and die and birth and die again and again and again. I fear that the earthlings are drying out.
I don't know how to help aliens feel at home. It may not be possible. But I do know how to keep earthlings well watered and aerated, and that is the way of the mikveh.
Mikveh is a Jewish practice of private immersion into a pool of free flowing water, mayyim chayyim -- living, or better, enlivening, waters. At its best the mikveh is used to honor the life-giving capacity of a woman's menstrual cycle; to soften the heart hardened by the work week that it might be aerated with the breath of Shabbat prayer and song; and to lower the boundaries of ego that "I" might make room for "Thou" in marriage. While the mikveh proper with all its attending rules and procedures is for Jews alone, I propose adopting and adapting the practice of immersion for everyone.
We live in a time when alien propaganda is so pervasive, so entrenched in our religions, politics and economic systems, that even the earthlings succumb to its other-worldly lure and begin to see the world as a thing to be used, even abused, in service to one's own desires. To free the earthling from alien ways we need to keep them moist and aerated.
My vision for doing so is a network of neighborhood "watering holes" where earthlings can soften; places of peaceful immersion in living waters where the soil of self is made moist and fecund, where the body can be tilled through massage and stretching, where the heart is aerated through chant and song, and the mind reawakened to its mission as midwife through spiritual direction.
These new mikvehs are unaffiliated with any faith or spiritual movement. They are safe and welcoming places for meeting, conversation, contemplation and immersion without formal teachers or gurus or hucksters of any kind. These watering holes would be run by community nonprofits whose mission is simply to establish, staff and maintain a safe and secure mikveh, and not to promote any specific ideology. While immersion in the living waters of the mikveh would be the central activity of these watering holes, local massage therapists and body workers might volunteer their time to help people prepare for the experience, and local spiritual directors might be available for those wishing to work a bit more with the experience after the immersion. Each mikveh would have a quiet reading room lined with books exploring wisdom and spirituality. And each would have a conversation area where people are encouraged to share their wisdom as peers rather than consume the wisdom of a guru or teacher.
I admit that this is little more than a sketch, but I offer it with the belief that unless and until we earthlings learn how to moisten, aerate and awaken to our true nature as speakers for creation rather than exploiters of it, the earth will fall ever more frighteningly into the hands of the aliens among us.