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The Sensuous and the Sacred

One day years ago, wondering around Rome I happened upon a small church. There she lay. Immediately, though knowing nothing about her, I felt I knew her.

I gazed at her, I do not know for how long. Suddenly, I remembered I had my camera. I began to photograph her from close, from far, from every angle. Every part of her. How was it possible that she be made of marble? Wasn’t she alive? Wasn’t she breathing?

Drifting around Rome in a daze, I meandered my way home. Surely, some angel was guiding me. Once in my tiny room, I began looking at the photos I had taken. I had not seen the rays of light shining down upon her, upon Saint Teresa, but my camera had.

 

I wanted to know more. Almost immediately, I found this passage:

“A pioneer of Catholic reform, later declared a Saint, Teresa experienced dramatic mystical visions throughout her life. In her autobiography, ’The Life of Teresa of Jesus’, she uses visceral language to express them, including one in which an angel repeatedly thrust a golden lance into her heart:

‘I saw in his [the angel’s] hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.’ 

It was this passage that provided the basis for Bernini’s sculpture. The erotic imagery was not his but Teresa’s.”

Having never taken a writing course, let alone a course in poetry I, like so many people, are occassionally moved to attempt to write a poem. I remembered having once written a poem when I had felt this mergence of the sensuous and the sacred. I searched through my hopelessly disorganized material for the poem. I couldn’t find it.

Years later, I did find it. Here it is.

Tefillin

By Bruce Fertman

 

Slowly, without force, untie me.

Gently, open me. 

Softly, draw me out.

Place me in your hands.

Unravel me from myself.

Free me that I may go straight to you.

Make my soul fearless.

I decide. 

I choose to bind my strength, and all the works of my hands, to you in joy.

 

From the depths of your deep, dark well, draw me up.

Pour me into your palms.

Bring me to your lips.

Drink me until I am you.

It is your thirst I long to quench.

 

Limited are my powers of thought, attention, reflection, perception.

Even so, ignite them for one purpose only: to behold your fire.

 

I am like a horse in need of direction.

Your touch feels too light, your reins too loose.

You force me into a realm of sense more delicate than I can comprehend.

Place me on the bit.

Let me feel you in my mouth.

Gather me. Center me. Collect me.

Henani. 

Here I am, trusting in you absolutely.

Waiting without anticipation.

Ready to move, or to rest,

As you wish.

 

Heneni.

Lightly suspended, in the slowest of motion,

Poised to begin, to continue, or to stop at any time, 

In any way, for however long, 

As you will.

 

Direct me.

Let me receive your intention and do it.

I wed myself to you for-ever, (which is not for long),

Where – ever, (in the world),

When – ever, (in the moment),

Whatso – ever, (in deed),

How – ever, (in calling),

Through ever-y one, (in relation).

 

Only now do I grasp the reality of eternity.

I cleave to you always, (in all ways),

Knowing that our union is first and final,

Primary even to the strong ties that bind me to my family, 

To my work, to myself.

 

Breath of my breath, breathe me.

Thought beyond my thoughts, quiet me.

Heart within my heart, love me.

 

Accept me because of my faults and flaws.

Support me because of my contradictions and inconsistencies.

Strengthen me because I am frail and unsure, not of you, but of myself.

Know me that I may learn from you how to know others,

That I may allow others to know me,

Know me that I may know not who I am, but whose I am.

 

Here I sit, imprinting your signature upon my forehead and forearm.

Imprinting your signature upon the work of my hands.

My grandfather’s tallis covers my head, spreading across my broad, aging shoulders, draping down my long, solid back.

You alone see me as I am.

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