“They’re here!!”

And we all thought movies like Poltergeist and the Exorcist were not real.  Seriously, it seems that Exorcisms are not something of the past, even in Western civilizations.  The NY Times reported the following story: For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism Is Revived.  What I like most about what the American Bishops are doing is that they are working to figure out which requests for exorcisms are “real” and which are really about a person needing modern psychological or psychiatric care.  In a way, this is a good example of the confluence of spirituality and modernity.

November 30, 2010:  See Of Devils and Dybbuks for Allen Nadlers discussion about the history of spirit possession in Judaism.

How not to embarrass others

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks shared the following story in relationship to this past week’s parasha, Vayeshev:

I will never forget an episode that occurred when I was a rabbinical student in the mid-1970s. A group of us, yeshiva students together with students from a rabbinical seminary, were praying together one morning in Switzerland, where we were attending a conference. We were using one of the rooms of the chateau where we were staying. A few minutes into the prayers, a new arrival entered the room: a woman Reform rabbi, wearing tallit and tefillin. She sat down among the men.
The students were shocked, and did not know what to do. Should they ask her to leave? Should they go elsewhere to pray? They clustered around the rabbi leading the group – today a highly respected rosh yeshiva in Israel. He looked up, saw the situation, and without hesitation and with great solemnity recited to the students the law derived from Tamar: “It is better that a person throw himself into a fiery furnace than shame his neighbor in public.” He told the students to go back to their seats and carry on praying. G-d forbid they should shame the woman. The memory of that moment has stayed with me ever since.
It says something about the Torah and Jewish spirituality that we learn this law from Tamar, a woman at the very edge of Israelite society, who risked her life rather than put her father-in-law to shame. Psychological pain is as serious as physical pain. Loss of dignity is a kind of loss of life. It is perhaps no coincidence that it was the episode of Judah and Tamar that began a family tree from which 10 generations later came David, Israel’s greatest king. (See Jewish Press for full dvar Torah.)

How many of these have you read?

Interesting list from BBC. 

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Instructions: Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or those from which you’ve read an excerpt.

I guess I haven’t read as much as the BBC would have liked.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling 
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger 
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll 
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan 
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad 
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Fighting an Angel as a means of facing our darkest moments

The following is an attempt at a spiritual approach to the story of Jacob fighting the Angel.  I am looking for comments as to whether this idea that is something that makes sense and can be shared with others.  If you like this idea, please feel free to use it.

Upon Jacob’s return from Haran, from his father-in-law Laban’s house, he realizes it is time to confront his brother Esau, whom he had slighted over 20 years earlier.  When we left Esau, he was set on killing his brother when Isaac died.  Jacob does not know after all these years how Esau is going to respond to seeing him again.  In his preparation for the coming meeting, Jacob, according the medieval commentator Rashbam, has the thought of running away.  This comes after all the other preparations, the gifts he sends to Esau, the prayers he gives and the dividing of his camp to potentially face an onslaught from an army of 400 (presumably the greater entourage).  In his moment of fear and selfish thought of abandonment, G-d sends an angel to confront Jacob, getting into a struggle that lasts all night long. 

What is the goal of the angel?  The Rashbam argues that the angel was sent to prevent Jacob from running away.  Hence, the battle continues until morning, when it becomes apparent that running away is no longer an option. 

Perhaps the angel is sent for a different purpose than to be a distraction.  Up until now, Jacob has spent his life hiding, making deals, running away and overall not standing up for himself and his family.  Jacob is about to face his most difficult challenge, confronting his greatest fear, his brother, whom he slighted all those years ago.  In his darkest moment, he has to confront an Angel.  This confrontation forces Jacob to confront his reality, he must confront Esau.  This is hinted to in the Midrash which identifies the angel with the divine minister of Edom. 

Angels are usually seen as merely our guardians.  People speak about having an angel on their shoulders looking out from them.  The angel is also a reflection of what the person needs at the time.  Sometimes, the need for a guardian is not about preventing darkness and despair.  Rather, the angel will be a guide to help face the fear associated with being our darkest moments.  As such, when morning comes, and Jacob has survived his angelic struggle, he can no longer be the same person.  His name becomes Israel as a means of showing he has finally grown up and reached his potential, which is that of someone who doesn’t run away or trick, but faces things head on.  He is now Yashar, straight, as the name Yisrael implies.

Making Room for Prayer in Our Synagogues: Thoughts on Parashat Vayetsei, November 13, 2010 | Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

Making Room for Prayer in Our Synagogues: Thoughts on Parashat Vayetsei, November 13, 2010 | Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

Rabbi Angel’s dvar Torah contains one of my favorite Hasidic stories dealing with prayer.  The story is about Rabbi Levi of Berditchev and his experience of a synagogue in which are the prayers remained instead of going up to heaven.  What are we thinking about when we pray?  How are we directing our prayers?  Are our synagogues conducive to creating a spiritual space to allow our prayers to go beyond words we are saying by rote?  These are the challenges spiritually inclined people face on a daily basis.  We must always strive to carve out privacy in the middle of a public ritual.

Charlatans or Spiritual gurus

The NY Times had a piece on how the sweat lodges have seen a decrease in visitors since the horrible story about the three people who died during a spiritual retreat last year.  For me, this brings up a tremendous question regarding those in the spirituality business.  Who is really at fault?  Is it the guru or spiritual master, who should also be watching out to prevent harming those coming to them for help?  Is it the people for getting to caught up in the hype of the spiritual leader?  To me, having read much regarding spiritual practice, I find the prevalence of spiritual healers and the costs to be involved with them somewhat fishy.  I think those deaths at the sweat lodge temporarily made people realize that the responsibility is upon them to know what they are getting into before trying out something that is not meant for the masses.  I hate to be so skeptical, but if you are a true spiritual master, then you would know when enough is enough for your constituents.  As the article suggests, people have seen the dangers inherent in unchecked spirituality.

End-of-Life Care for Patients With Advanced Dementia

I found this piece, End-of-Life Care for Patients With Advanced Dementia, published on the NY Times blog about old age.  The primary argument is that those with End Stage Dementia are underserviced in hospice care and greater awareness is needed.  On the flip side, I think that the challenge of creating sound criteria for End Stage Dementia should nt be so easily disregarded.  For starters, to offer palliative care, there needs to be a certain baseline, regardless of the question of access.  Often the lack of hospice care for anyone is more related to either doctors not wanting to refer or to families not realizing the medicare benefit is available for people that are dying from non-cancer diseases.  Truth is, only about 1/3 of those who die in the USA die receiving hospice or palliative care.  Before we go and change the eligibility, we should first work on greater hospice advocacy.