By Marvin Payne
Yesterday, in a conversation with my father-in-law, I used the word “bifurcate.” It just popped into my head and demanded to be spoken. Not having the slightest idea what it meant, I couldn’t deliver it within any meaningful context. So I just spoke the word. This is the kind of thing that happens when I am overly stimulated intellectually.
My father-in-law (and, since this column has a philosophical connection with Family History, I should specify that I am discussing here my Nearest Paternal Ancestor on my Spousal Line) has been characterized as something along the order of a “towering intellect.” He has been characterized thusly by at least one individual who is actually paid to observe and evaluate the human condition (see www.marvinpayne.com/familyalbum.html, paragraph two, but not right now).
By “towering intellect” I mean that if you’re discussing the Kabbalah (a Very Serious Text emerging from the Ancient Hebrews) and the appointed time for concluding your discussion has come, and he’s leaving the room with focused purpose, you mischievously ask, “Hey, weren’t you going to tell me just a titch more about the earlier (horizontal) rendering of the Hebrew letter “aleph”?, he will immediately drop his suitcase, sit down with you once again on the couch, and miss his plane.
(In Hebrew, as is apparent to most towering intellects ((and even to a few just-barely-standing-upright intellects)) there is an alphabet character ((the first, as it happens, although it’s hard to tell, because Hebrew is read from right to left)) called “aleph,” which once looked a little like the head of a bull, or, in its earliest form, the head of bull enjoying a siesta. The Kabbalah attaches great symbolic, numerical, climatological, and even spelling significance to each of the Hebrew alphabet characters. Did I say the Kabbalah was pretty Serious? One ancient Rabbi, with a perhaps overly-nurtured sense of humor, was once symbolically laden with all the sins of the Camp of Israel and driven into the wilderness for whimsically suggesting during the composition of the Kabbalah that they name the first chapter that deals with alphabet characters “Aleph In Wonderland.” This account is to be found in the ancient “Rumoricon,” a little-known but vast Talmud-like commentary on The Apocrypha.)
According to Kabbalistic methodology, sacred texts are to be understood on various levels. For example, if you encounter the aleph in the earlier (horizontal, or “siesta”) rendering, it is a signal that the next passage is to be understood as a dream. If, on the other hand, you encounter the aleph in the later (vertical, or “awake”) rendering, it is a signal that the following passage may only be read under the threat of being ceremoniously gored in the Court of the Gentiles. Did I mention that the Kabbalah is a rather Serious Book? Not to mention Totally Forbidden and–hey, what is that shadow creeping up behind me brandishing a sacrificial sword? Oh, whew, it’s just my little boy in his Kabbalistic Enforcer pajamas.
(Someone accustomed to Kabbalistic interpretation of texts would probably point out here that “whew” is a word that only has significance in the world of written expression. Even “cowering” intellects, or even those to whom Shakespeare referred as “base football players” ((see “King Lear” Act One, Scene Four and then wonder with me how a guy can be, simultaneously, a baseball and football player. Well, cut Shakespeare some slack. He was, after all, a theatre geek, towering intellect notwithstanding)), will readily see that “whew,” although widely understood when perceived on the page (or parchment, or basalt slab) is not a word ever actually spoken by humans. ((Except by a girl with whom I was enamored in my adolescence, Christine Welch (((see www.marvinpayne.com/lovebook.html, chapter three))), who once said “whew” to me right out loud in an otherwise meaningful sentence without batting a lovely eye. Christine had, it seems, spent most of her summer in the library.)) )
But it’s all pretty useful actually, this attention to cultural, mystical, and poetical tools of scriptural interpretation. On account of here’s Dave Koralewski, (the Father-in-law under consideration here–also the Sunday School President in his ward) suddenly standing in front of the fifteen-year-olds because their teacher had moved from the ward without telling anybody, asking the students to read silently certain passages of scripture so that while they’re looking down he can be reading silently certain passages of the lesson manual (these towering intellects have their tricks, let me tell you).
And they get to the part in Mosiah (see Mosiah 7:30-31–don’t bother with www.marvinpayne.com/anythingatall.html at this point) where the Lord says “If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind.” And the towering intellect (or “TI”) asks the class, “What does ‘sow’ mean?” And there are blank stares, except from the young sister who condescends to point out to the poor TI that it involves a needle, thread, and cloth. So the TI asks them if they are acquainted with the parable of the sower and is met by blank stares, this time even from the austere haberdasheress.
Then he tells them the parable, and some of them find it familiar, and some of them suddenly remember that “sow” means ‘”deposit seeds into a medium from which they might grow.” (Perhaps if “bifurcate” had been part of a parable that gave it a context, I would have been able to guess what it meant.) As he related to me this Sunday School sowing story, I was right with him, because last Monday we planted our garden. (We always plant it all at once and it always grows. And it almost never has weeds. Eat your heart out. Or pay your tithing and find out what totally surprising blessing the Lord has in mind for You. In the World of Blessings it is, more than anywhere else, “different strokes for different folks”–this, besides the blessings themselves, is what makes obedience so much fun.) I would stick my fingers into the tilled soil and pull some back, little John Riley and Caitlin Willow would drop kernels of corn or little dry beans into the gap, and then we’d stomp them down all along the row. We’d inter one spiky little beet seed per every round anticipated beet, and array our little honeydew seeds along the parapets of their hill, methodically and meticulously.
But in the parable, some seed “fell by the way side,” and the fowl birds ate them. Some “fell upon stony places” and there wasn’t any soil to grab hold of, so they fried. And “some fell among thorns” and were choked by the thorns. And I’m thinking, “Hold on! I, even I who only gets a good garden as a blessing for doing something else right, know better than this. This year I avoided planting even one bean in the driveway, where hungry and fowl birds are wont to strut. I avoided planting a single kernel of corn on the surface of a rock. I avoided burying my little beet seeds among thorns. Assiduously. Bifurcatively. What was this Sower in the parable thinking?
My reverie is interrupted by my father-in-law waving his hand gracefully across the space between us. At first, I think he has begun dancing, or something. But then I realize he is demonstrating a style of planting that is alien and wonderful, maybe even Kabbalistic. Being a TI, he is bringing a cultural level to this whole “sowing” thing that never would have occurred to me, not to mention to his staring fifteen-year-olds. Your hand is full of seeds, you’re walking through the ancient field (perhaps incautiously close to way sides, stones, and thorns, but there you are) and gradually opening your hand as you’re swinging it in an arc before you. Seeds galore. All over the place. You are “casting” seeds, like little pearls, into the waiting ground.
And he suggests (and this is pretty easy to see, what with all the wide visual aiding he’s doing) that a certain kind of “casting” is “broadcasting.” Got it.
Then he asks both me and the fifteen-year-olds, “Are you aware of anyone who is broadcasting filthiness?” Oooh! Cultural leap–like lightning between two poles (or a tiny spark across a synapse)! And of course the filthiness takes root and sends out hungry shoots. What gets reaped therefrom is a whole ‘nuther discussion.
And we are left knowing that whether we finally lift our open hands to the Lord filled with golden grain or hold our hands behind our backs, hiding from Him the clutching chaff, is a bifurcation that can be discerned without any Kabbalistic tools whatever.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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