April 20, 2022
IT IS NOT THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Earlier this week I spent perhaps five minutes in a close encounter with a malach. Malach is a Hebrew word meaning “messenger” or “angel”. Professor R.E. Friedman says that malachim (the plural of malach) in the angel sense are “hypostases”, manifestations of God in forms we humans can experience with our limited senses. The malachim I encounter tend to be birds or bugs; the bug forms tend to be dragonflies. The malach earlier this week was a bird. The message, as usual, was “pay attention”. Or at least that was part of the message.
The bird in question was a wren, and about half way through our time together I concluded that it was a Rock Wren. (It happens that it was sitting on a rock for our entire visit, but that is not why I concluded it was a Rock Wren.) About an hour earlier, I had spent a few minutes intermittently in connection with another bird, a Calliope Hummingbird. It is possible this also was a malach, but if so I was not open to the experience, though it informed my time with the Rock Wren.
By now you are wanting to ask “Hazzan Steve, how do you know if a bird or bug or whoever or whatever you encounter is a manifestation of Divinity, or might it be your imagination or desire, or Scrooge’s bit of ‘underdone potato’?”. One answer is that it really does not matter to me much. It is the experience that is the encounter, and the malachim who visit me always carry messages (they are, after all, messengers in a plain meaning of the Hebrew word). As I said, that message tends to be “pay attention”. At least that is part of the message.
D’var acher – another answer: Divinity permeates the world, whether or not I am open to the experience moment to moment, and being open in that way is difficult. Today, as it happens, I struggled to be aware of this aspect of reality, inundated as I was with the sounds of barking dogs and trucks on Clark Road, and the sadness I was feeling about one of my neighbors fencing a meadow, and …. If a malach was in my path today, I did not encounter it.
Back to the Malach As Rock Wren. Beginning with my birdwatcher’s eyes, I noticed the general size and shape, the long bill, the pushups the bird did now and then as we held each other’s gaze, the barring under the tail, the fine stipples of black on the back and wings. The Calliope Hummingbird came to mind, which I at first had written off as just another Anna’s hummer rather than the much more unusual Calliope. Now, I began to experience the wren as malach. I asked them what their message was.
The first answer, of course, was “pay attention”. But what else? Pay attention to the details, because I might otherwise jump to an erroneous conclusion. Why avoid erroneous conclusions? In this case, with admittedly so little at risk, avoiding erroneous conclusions was about not assuming that what was there in front of me was what is usually there or what I expect to be there. Why pay attention, pay attention to the details, not assume the normal? Because when I can pay attention in this way, I am open to diverse possibilities and opportunities. When I pay attention to the details, the exceptional can pop right out of the surround. And sometimes the exceptional is not just a tick on my morning bird list, but an insight about me, about those I love, about the concentric rings I inhabit, about how Divinity permeates the world.
So it is not the devil in the details, but God in the details. And according to Rabbi Wikipedia, God in the details is the original version of the proverb. Not what you expected to find, huh?
With blessings for a happy and healthy week,