The Grail and the Veil

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

Sumi Brush“The more I have looked into the Quest for the Grail, it is clear it is a Western form of Zen. There is no grail, it is understanding that the veil is the mystery of existence, it is nothing, but our interactions with everyone and everything.” Woolly and friend, Mark Odegard

Mark is an artist, an author, a sweet guy and a friend of 30 years. He’s done many retreats at a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Minnesota and done calligraphy with that giant brush Zen monks use. He has an ability to come at ideas from the side, or behind, seeing what cannot be seen; the Zen work has informed his sight in substantive ways.

He’s asking the Woolly Mammoths this New Year’s question for their next meeting:

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail’? I will write down your answer to this, and ask you again at the end of the year.

The story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life (often occurring in our late teen years). The meaning is veiled for us, what do you need to lift the veil.”

Mark’s question made me start because I’d just written this, only two or three days ago here on Ancientrails:

“Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives…

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

No. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.” Ancientrails

I’m not trying to revive the word God here, nor am I trying to reinsert myself into the thought world which includes God. I’m on the same grail quest I started years ago in Alexandria First Methodist sitting beside the huge stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Back then I read the Bible as history, not as mythology. Back then it mattered if there was a Jesus who prayed in that Garden that the burden of crucifixion be lifted.

I pushed those beliefs away long ago, passing through a moment, a long moment of second naivete with them, then moving into the world of the Great Wheel and the cyclical, spiraling time through which all life moves, in fact, all things. Over the last year or so my intense program of Jewish immersion has taken me another big step along this ancientrail, a true Grail quest began when, as a sixteen year old, I began to doubt the stories I’d heard growing up.

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

 

 

My true philosophical (qua religious) home, existentialism, found me in the aftermath of that doubting and my first encounter with philosophy at Wabash College. When I went into my Christian immersion, through seminary and in the Presbyterian years, my faith went mystical, seeing the divine as divinely personal, as a bright light shining within the darkness of my inner world, a light whose purpose was not to dispel the darkness, but to integrate, Taoist style, both of them.

Now, with Rabbi Jamie, I’m studying the kabbalah. Like Zen it insists on not seeing with eyes alone, but with the heart, with a poetic sensibility that understands religious language, I think all religious language, as metaphor, even and especially for the kabbalists, the written Torah.

The veil is a very important metaphor in kabbalistic thought. Like Mark observed above the kabbalists know there is a veil between us and the mystery of existence. The veil underscores the humility necessary for this work and without humility the quest will fail.

canterbury pilgrims

canterbury pilgrims

This idea is ultimately significant. Or not. We cannot penetrate the veil. Ever. Yet we all stand together on the other side of it. To see through the veil, to actually find the Grail, is not given to us, yet that place which we see through a glass darkly is the place where we stand right now. Yes, right now the Grail is in our hands, a cup from which we can drink at any moment.

This ancientrail, the quest for the Grail, the turning of the Great Wheel, the lifting of the burden of our crucifixion, flowing up and down with divine energy through the Tree of Life, is our life, is the life of this world, this cosmic pulsing brilliant reality. Yet we let so many things: work, fear, hope, pride blind us.

winter solstice3The Woolly Mammoths have been my companions, fellow pilgrims, on the way to Canterbury. Or, fellow Tibetan Buddhists inch worming their way around the sacred mountain, Meru. Or, my fellow Torah scholars, davening as we read the sacred texts. Or, fellow Lakotas, our skin pierced and tied to the world tree during the Sun Dance. Or, friends traveling through this life together until it ends.

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail?” Out of far left field, I’m going to answer, “A Sumi brush, rice paper, an ink stone. And the courage to use them.”

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.