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enforced Day 54 off

March 2, 2010

Early walk through the bright morn to St Thomas Hospital, for my day of eye tests. My Dad had glaucoma. I have severe astigmatism in my left eye – the eye I use to see the spirit world.  The pressure in my eyes has fluctuated in recent tests, and they want to keep an eye on me haha. Which is why I’m booked in to the Eye Clinic all day for tests on the hour.

I arrive for my 8.50am appointment. Around 9 the fire-alarm goes off and we all get evacuated to the south wing corridor. It takes 20 minutes to get the all clear, though after that things go smoothly, and less painfully than I’d feared.

Every hour I get the orange drops in each eye, tab with a tissue, put my chin and forehead into the restraint and look at the ear of the person shining a blue light into the eye. Each hour, the pressure is recorded.

Each test only takes a few minutes. Between them, I walk in the gardens looking over the river at the Houses of Parliament.  For the second break, I cross Westminster Bridge to visit St Margaret’s, by the Abbey, with its stained glass window depicting a blind Milton dictating Paradise Lost to his wife and daughter.

For reading, I have my well-thumbed copy of Karen Armstrong’s A History of God. Comprehensive. She begins by tracing the emergence of monotheism from primordial creation myths, through Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Having devoted chapters to each, she then explores the shared values of the three great faiths. Chapters titled The God of The Philosophers, The God of The Mystics, The God of The Reformers illustrate how each faith was subject the different currents  flowing through them all at different times in their history. Illuminating!

In this blog, I’ve jestingly referred to my observation of the Jewish Shabbat.  I am not a Jew, though I can imaginatively connect with the Jewish narrative.   I used to think I had nothing in common with the Hasidim, the hatted, ringletted, bearded, north London Jewish men in black. My friend Irving set me straight: the Hasidim were wonderful joyous people. They worshipped God in their eating and drinking, singing and dancing and making love (to their spouses).

That came back to me today, as I sat in the cafe in St Thomas Hospital, reading A History of God and gazing out the window across the sunlit Thames to Westminster, at 1.10pm by Big Ben…

I felt the presence of Israel Ben Eliezer, the 18th century mystic, the Baal Shem Tov, aka the Besht, the Rabbi of ecstacy, who taught that the Divine Sparks had been scattered and trapped in matter – yet, unlike the Gnostic:

‘Instead of seeing the fall of the divine sparks to the world as a disaster, the Besht taught his Hasidim to look on the bright side. These sparks were lodged in every item of creation and this meant that the whole world was filled with the presence of God. A devout Jew could experience God in the tiniest action of his daily life – when he was eating, drinking or making love to his wife – because the divine sparks were everywhere.’

A History of God, Karen Armstrong (pp. 392)

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