I wrote a few days ago about my inner Kaleidoscope and me. What I long to say to somebody–and so I will bare my soul to the world–is that the ugly truth is that a person with Bipolar–and I am one–is only partly affected by forces outside the self. No, the life of the Bipolar patient is one of intense ups and downs (moods). Because of this, what I hear when people speak to me is only half them. The other half is my euphoria or despair informing the fact as it comes into me. This may help me be creative… yet it has a destructive effect on relationships. People don’t always understand why I am reserved one moment and exhibitionist the next… and that affects a great loneliness… Or as the Bible says:
The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity;
but a broken spirit who can bear?
So it is that I always wonder about something: I do take lots of pills. Yet sometimes I still get depressed or (in the car with my friend Cynthia) raucous. In that car I get to unwind and live exuberantly… yet sometimes at night I am the same way, and nobody except invisible voices are there… when I can’t sleep… That raucousness has joy in it… I hope Cynthia understands that it is as close to happy as I ever get… that and in my synagogue praying… Yes in my prayers I feel the consoling arms of God…
Yet I did not always find consolation in my prayers… Grandma Alderson told me as a child that a Jewish anti-Christ was coming; and that a Catholic Pope and False Prophet was helping him; and the few “saints” (who must be dreary folk indeed), would escape in the Rapture whereas all the worlds peoples except them (other Christians including most Catholics; Jews; Muslims; Hindus; and Buddhists et al) would be cast into a great lake of fire where they would roast for all eternity… I was ten years old at the time.
I was terrified at the time–last night I figured out that was what my root feeling was 10 to 13 years of age. I thought I hated God, other people, my parents–but really it was not hate but fear. I feared the God I once had loved. At 13 in a hospital I realized that I did not disbelieve in God but was only angry at Him. Now I know it was not true I hated God but only that I was afraid of Him. And I tried to embrace Him, somehow… I was suicidal but in my heart I wanted to love again. Yet I couldn’t work it out, somehow. I tried different things in High School–reading C.S. Lewis’ Defense of Christianity and half of Augustine’s City of God. I read Dostoyevsky late in High School and imagined that he was a much better Christian than he actually was… I want to make it clear that love and fear battled within me and so too the feeling of injustice… and I lost faith in Christianity anew when I was 19 after my Freshman year in college.
Despite the gloominess of my faith, I felt lost, empty, alone, isolated when I lost faith… Until I discovered a book by Spinoza, his Ethics. I admired his belief in God as a pantheistic God, and I found his beliefs about morality comforting. I did however, revise them in my head into a kind of consequentialism. I believed that actions had consequences and the key to virtue was to view the world in terms of the consequences of your actions. I believed him that hard work and honesty were valuable to gaining employment (though he didn’t say that outright); that the social virtues were necessary to have true friendships; and that the love of God alone transcended crude self-interest. However, I found his pantheism troubling in one way: Spinoza believes in a God that does not love a person back. More, I also wanted to believe there was a love of one person for another that transcended self-interest. To quote Jesus in the New Testament, “There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for a friend.” Therefore at least at the time I believed not in pantheism but in a form of Deism. This was before I came to Judaism… For a while I wanted to become a Unitarian, but to this day I have never stepped into one of their churches… Yet as a Jew I have struggled with part of Spinoza I initially dismissed… perhaps in fact the truth of God’s reality is that God is a Panentheistic God. God is both Creator and Created. He is Conscious of each of us, and there is a form of the Afterlife in that the Soul of the Good rejoins Him in Death–and enjoys bliss in the arms of the Creator.
There is an apropos Midrash in Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls: that each Soul before it goes down to earth is held and petted in the loving arms of its Creator, who is a kind of gentle Zaydie to each one before the soul is sent to live in the physical realm. We only do not know because he bottle feeds us the milk of forgetfulness before sending us to earth… This gentle Zaydie is a part of how I imagine God… I believe this God only regretfully punishes the souls of the wicked in the afterlife (“I take no joy in the punishment of the wicked”), and justifies many who only marginally deserve forgiveness (“I will gather still others besides those I have already gathered”).
Anyway… I was talking to a professor, Ms. Golden, about my views–at that time I had determined I wanted to study Spinoza, Hegel, and Whitehead. I mistakenly called Judaism “an ethnic religion.” Ms. Golden said, “That is not true. That is simply a racist myth Hitler dreamed up. Judaism doesn’t seek out converts but does take them when they come. It is a Universal Faith.”
Hearing these words a spark was lit: I could really become a Jew! Though I had never thought I would be one, it was as though my life had been building towards that moment. So I spoke to another professor… I went to the Reform synagogue but then switched to one that was Orthodox/Conservative (because I wanted to keep the Kosher laws) and the rest, religiously, is History.
My family, except my mother, did not really accept or come to accept this very well: Grandma Alderson (who I never should have told) and Dad died believing I was going to hell for it. And, it did turn out I had Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder–but my Orthodox rabbi and later rabbis were kind and supportive. I really had only one doubt, leftover from my Christian faith: I wanted to believe in a God who was an Unrequited Giver and who wished humankind to be made of unrequited givers. I wanted to believe that a person could give to a person who could not give back and that was the Holiest kind of Love… what Christians call “Grace” I believe… but after all, the Bible has God say, “I will be Gracious unto whom I will be Gracious,” so perhaps the cause of Grace is good in Judaism, too… and I still believe in it, and have done a few good deeds knowing that the person could not pay me back. And that is all I really want from my faith: Love.