Art as Inquiry into Jewish Text
The art and writing tasks of the Studio Process access the unlimited potential of the Creative Source. Simple engagement with drawing, painting and sculpture serve as a technology of the sacred, available to anyone at any point in life, with any level of art experience. The core Studio Process can be combined with a group or community intention to explore common issues such as our perception of others, visioning community solutions or creating community celebrations or rituals. We can explore and be guided in our personal lives as well as in our actions in the world.
-Pat B. Allen StudioPardes.com[i]
Like the natural world, Torah too may contain entire dimensions that are not yet apparent to us. These may disclose themselves to us through new interpretive tools, or by fresh new uses of the old ways of reading….We should strive to remain open to learning on as many levels, and by as many methods, as we are able to. In this way, Torah will become for us, as it was for earlier generations, a way to navigate those mysterious channels of existence.
– Art Green Radical Judaism[ii]
Aggadah, as a way of thinking is fluid and open; the wellsprings of its innovative vigor and its spirit of independent creativity were never blocked off.z
– Joseph Hienemann as quoted in Midrash and Literature[iii]
Bible stories do not flatter or fascinate like Homer’s; they do not give us something artfully rendered; they force readers to become interpreters and to find the presence of what is absent in the fraught background, the densely layered narrative… The accreted, promissory narrative we call Scripture is composed of tokens that demand the continuous and precarious intervention of successive generations of interpreters who must keep the words as well as the faith.
– Geoffrey H. Hartman Midrash and Literature [iv]
* * *
We used the Studio Process in dialogue with biblical text of Exodus 1:1-2:10. Our intention was to see what new information or insights we could gain and what stories we could uncover by combining traditional hevrutah learning with the Studio Process. As Art Green writes in his book Radical Judaism, Together, my mom and I explored the Creative Process as a way of “Going back to the mountain and hearing the Word again, hearing it with clarity as the eternal voice speaks for our own day, will require a new sort of listening, one that has never yet existed, unique to this generation and this moment.”[v]
II. Overarching Intentions for Project
– To explore how the creative process can be used in service to and in conversation with the biblical text on behalf of the greater good
– To experiment with this mode of engagement with two people who have different life experiences and knowledge bases about text, Judaism, art, creativity, etc.
– To explore the creative process as a means of what Art Green calls for in his book Radical Judaism “going back to the mountain and hearing the word again,” and of finding a “new sort of listening this is unique to this generation.”[vi]
– To continue to breathe life into our text and to allow it to breathe into me
– To create and explore with my mom as we draw on our different ideas, tools, etc.
– To digest, process, deepen, and transform our learning in Shemot from first semester
– To relax and truly give in to the process without fear of what will come of it
– To be in service, ultimately, and to open myself as a channel to let the Source come through me
III. Definition of Terms
A. Hevrutah – is a term that refers to a pair of people engaged in studying Jewish texts together in a particular manner. One’s hevruta is one’s partner in studying the text. Traditional Jewish text study is about exploring different aspects of a text and wrestling with (considering, responding to, arguing with, riffing on) both what each partner finds in the text individually and what a hevruta pair comes up with together. In this wrestling process, the hevruta creates something new with the text.[vii] In this process my mom and I were hevrutah. Each of us brought our own background, fields of study, and life experience to the project. It was important for us to engage in all aspects of the project—from the study and analysis of the Torah text to the art making and witness writing—together.
B. Brainstorm – This is the process we engaged in each time we came to a new section of Biblical text. We first read through the Biblical text together, out loud in English. Together we decided what constituted a good section of text for us to work with and determined where to stop. Next, I shared interesting commentaries, questions, and analyses I had learned about this section. Then, my mom shared thoughts or reactions from her own background as an artist and art therapist. Finally, we discussed together new ideas and insights about the text. We recorded all ideas in our Brainstorm section.
C. Intention – This is a statement of what one would like to receive from the Creative Source at this particular moment. Intentions are worded clearly, in the present tense, without using the word “want.”[viii]After each brainstorm and before beginning our art making we each created our own personal intention in service to an agreed upon question about the text.
D. Art Making– Putting the Intention aside and engaging with whatever materials call to you. Our Art Making usually took about six hours per image.
E. Midrash – A homiletic method of biblical exegesis.[ix] One session we wrote our own midrashim as a means of inquiring into the text.
F. Witness –The witness is the chance to actualize your intention by turning your attention and full consciousness to what you have received in your art making. The steps are as follows:
1. Sit in front of your art quietly and just notice what it looks and feels like.
2. Describe in writing what you see as fully as you can without coming to conclusions.
3. Write down any feelings or thoughts, including judgments that come up for you.
4. Dialogue with the image or a part of the image; write it down as it comes, including any seemingly extraneous thoughts or tangents.
5. Check in with your intention; ask your image what it has to do with your intention.[x]
Brainstorm – Exodus 1:1-1:14
– Importance of personal relationships (between Joseph and King of Egypt, Joseph and the Hebrews)
– Slave labor as taking away individuality
– Lack of personal relationship leads to scarcity mentality
– Hoarding of grain leads to the building of the garrison cities
– Lack of safety leads to hoarding of slaves
– Other possible tactics king could have employed to cultivate a relationship with the Israelites
– Egyptians came to fear the Hebrews, they weren’t a problem to begin with
– Through this oppression the King creates hatred of the Israelites among his people
– New King looking to do things differently than the old King
– The strategy of putting all responsibility onto one person, as in the case of Joseph, can’t succeed
– People (Israelites) get benefit without having to do the work
– No integration between to the two parties is a precarious balance
– Methods for managing fear
– Lying: Joseph’s brothers to him (end of Beresheit)
– Oppressing: King to Hebrews (beginning of Shemot)
– Pivotal moment: end of the patriarchal line – why now?
– Is enslavement the necessary incubator for a post-patriarchal future?
– Could enslavement only happen without a patriarch?
– First dying out of patriarchy is connected to a surge of female presence in the text (Shifra, Puah, Bat Paraoh, Miriam, Yocheved)
– Could there have been an underground women’s network?
– Maybe a secret message from Pharaoh
– “Every boy kill” – tone down the masculine, “Every girl let live” – increase the feminine
Intention – Adina, Exodus 1:1-1:14
I explore what we can learn about the relationship between the end of the patriarchal line and the beginning of slavery. I trust in the process despite my fears and self-doubt. I create for pleasure.
Tiny little details boxed in by a thick black line. Border demarcation. Boundary. Edge. Keep your head down and focus. Calm anxiety by small little tiny strokes of the pen. Meditation practice. Most intrigued by the city on the rubble. Piles of stores, bricks and mortar. Buildings, sky scrapers. What radiates out above? Sunlight? Signals up to heaven? Towers of Babel? Next to nuclear power lines zapping in energy. One layer feeds into the next into the next. I want to see where it opens up, but it doesn’t. Some ink spilled outside the borderline. One drop and then many. I let it continue. Looking at it again this morning I see so much empty space. I got back with small details, dot after dot after dot.
Adina: What else do you want picture?
Looks like a wave made of dots. Haphazard blobs scattered throughout.
Adina: Wave, can you speak?
Wave: Where am I coming from and to where am I going?
Adina: I don’t know, you tell me.
He’s not speaking. Ah. I don’t like you now you have an ugly weird bird face. Ah I am trying to circumvent the process. I want a finished end result that looks great. What about process? Isn’t that exactly what we’ve been talking about? Patriarchy is the insistence on an end result no matter the cost. Forcing, not listening. I forced a wave image, perhaps.
How do you let go enough to go with it? Trust enough in the process? It’s really, really hard. Pharaoh didn’t trust the increasing number of Hebrews, so he sought to control them, preemptively. In the end, though, that force never actually works because the wave keeps coming and there’s always something on the other side. Is that Gd? The fact that force can’t hold back the Power of Transformation? We try so hard, though. With Israel, with policies. We so want a certain reality that we force it down one another’s throats. It doesn’t work. Well, I guess it can work for a while, but it causes so much pain and resentment in the process. But what was Pharaoh supposed to do? Let the Hebrews continue to grow and take over? Would that really be responsible leadership? Well, good question. What is responsible leadership? Because even though he showed force and strategy, in the end his dominion was crushed and his people were drowned.
What is the proper attitude when the tide seems to be shifting? Potentially he could have used the seeming-ascent of the Hebrews to his advantage while nurturing them and building relationships. But we don’t trust one another in that way. Darwin -misunderstood, though. Maybe the more we expect that reality of backstabbing power grabbing, the more we create it for ourselves. Costa Rica doesn’t have any army. Seriously. And all that money that would got to national defense, it goes towards education and protection of the natural resources. And, of all the countries in Central/South America they have the least trouble. Interesting.
Back to the detailed section. I had fear and trepidation so I focused on something small, repetitive and manageable. So much time on small details can make the unfinished remainder look daunting. Drops came, out of my control. That made the wave. Control, lack of control. The waters above and below. Gd separated to contain the chaos. Color, I think, color.
How do we move through collective transition gracefully? Can we escape the pattern of oppression and rebirth? Was slavery needed to make us who we are? What if Pharaoh had acted differently? What are our new stories to look to as new models?
Witness 2 – Adina, Exodus 1:1-1:14
In the crashing of the crest of the wave is a figure. I thought it was a woman, I am not sure now. Charlton Heston Moses with the long hair? An image of Gd? Moses and Gd wrapped up into one? It appears that the figure is hiding behind the rock. But I see features of a face. Hands reaching out across a great void. Flowing down from the top of the wave and the great dividing line sprouts roots. Roots searching, reaching down, inching every closer to the Divine calling, sensing the radiating light energy but not touching to the other side.
Or is the yellow force field keeping them away? Was Gd’s act of separating light and dark, water and water, male and female an act that, ultimately, was pointless? I want to think not, of course. But if all matter tends towards entropy, towards greater and greater levels of chaos, ultimately was Gd making a power play that couldn’t be sustained? Wow. Pharaoh and Gd. Really?! Shouldn’t there be some kind of nullifying blessing for that? I don’t know. Here, though, it looks like Gd/Moses is feebly trying to hold back the roots. Almost like the cracks in a sidewalk that grow plants, which, if left untouched, will eventually break through, and destroy the slabs of concrete.
Gd in the crashing of the wave. That scary part where, when you’re in the ocean, you are uprooted, tossed about, potentially terrified with salt water up your nose, upside down, flung to the other side of the beach. Or you can stay on top of it. Catch a wave in the right place and it’s a relaxing little bounce up and down. Or, even further out, you don’t feel the wave at all. Is this about perspective? How big a picture we choose to look at? Gd and the rock, baby Moses in the basket.
My question before was “what lies on the other side of the wave?” Here it looks like Gd, reaching out, perhaps, roots searching, and a formless void. No one knows what lies ahead. But it is clear here that at least three levels of reality are taking place at the same time: the city, the upheaval of Transformation, and the next iteration, brewing.
Intention – Pat, Exodus 1:1-1:14
I was drawn to put a yellow ground and then the blue figure appeared and a few messy shapes. The first blue figure is skinny and intense and is staring into the face of an amorphous character. Their two heads seem attached. Then other things appeared: a heart, a tree, a yellow figure and some pink marks. I may be too tired to do this? But wait, I just saw something in the yellow. Okay, go for it.
Witness 2 – Pat, Exodus 1:1-1:14
A yellow ‘Dr. Seuss’-like woman looks out from within the second figure. The tree now has a face and there are some yellow spirals and dots. The figure speaks:
She: Whatever you don’t focus on begins to vibrate and disappear. I am always within everything but what you focus on becomes clearer and more apparent. He (the blue guy) stares and stares until he sees his reflection but there are other possibilities. If ignored too long they disappear.
Pat: Are the spirals potentials?
She: Yes. The possibilities are endless.
Intention – Pat, Exodus 1:1-1:14
I reconnect with the project and let energy flow to inform this inquiry. I release all resistance and receive the essence. I ask the question, what is slavery?
Witness 2 – Pat, Exodus 1:1-1:14
You are a corny collection of disparate objects. Some ground beneath the blue guy’s feet but it is breaking up. The flower shape has come into focus and a few more swirls and dots. The heart has a sore and tender spot. The yellow figure is more in focus under a yellow mountain. The tree guy watches the confrontation. What is going on?
Blue guy: Please don’t bother me; I’m trying to no God.
Blue Guy: I mean ‘know.’ It’s as clear as can be, He’s me, and I’m He. Do you see?
Pat: Yes, but I see more. First of all it feels like you’re trying awfully hard and mostly what you are doing is conjuring a version of yourself. The yellow figure behind it is interesting.
Yellow Figure: I’m everything he isn’t I’m simple, kind, motherly, ordinary but as you can see all these other pieces are being ignored too which places them at risk for disappearing.
Pat: Ok. Are you saying that it is only what we conjure that exists?
Yellow figure: No! But it is all that you can see.
Conjure: to invoke so – called supernatural forces. To produce as if by magic by reciting a spell or certain words. usually for entertainment.
Pat: But here is my question: Is it all “conjured?” Is there an extant reality? What is God?
Yellow Fig.: Yes & yes. There is potential and there is calling forth.
Pat: But does what comes forth have autonomy?
Yellow Fig.: Ha, ha, ha you mean do certain potentials desire to be seen?
Pat: Yes, I guess so and do some fade away not matter how much conjuring? What is the mechanism and what does this have to do with slavery?
Yellow Fig: Ha ha ha, Mr. Tree?
Tree: Mystery, sister, yes, these possibilities try to catch your eye. Slavery is when you forget about them.
Pat: I just had a flash of bubbles popping…
(I came back into the room and Adina had ‘gone for it’ with red in her painting and I felt a huge opening inside me and a sense of “Wow” and it makes me want to be bold too!)
Pat: What do you want, image? Is it terrible that we are indoors and not out in the beautiful day? Can’t the birds and leaves tell us as much as paints and paper?
Yellow Woman Whole Figure: Don’t go either-oring! Alternate, equivocate, eviscerate. Make your heart blood-ready.
(A winding strand comes out of the heart and goes over to the empty right hand side of the page.)
What is your heart’s desire? That is your real question and it requires total faith in God to ask it. You may have it in the instant you know it ad not a moment sooner. To think it impossible is to sin, really.
Pat: And slavery?
YWWF: Toiling in that which is not your heart’s desire.
Pat: And isn’t that self-indulgent, selfish, crass, etc?
YWWF: “Joy and celebration” are the tools of change and transformation. Build the rich web of nourishment.
Pat: Yellow Woman, why are you under that mountain?
YWWF: You knew this once, all of you. Create nourishment on every level. See how skinny that blue man is? He’s forgotten and now that state of hunger feels right to him. Every thing is true, the wrong food in any quantity will not nourish; the right food in one teaspoon is nectar.
Pat: Why is he working so hard?
Heart: He thinks it will nourish him. He so badly wants to be seen but will accept only one reflection so he works so hard to maintain it when others exist.
Heart: Ideas must be allowed to die.
Pat: Must they?
Heart: To recede back into the potential, to keep everything is a form of enslavement.
Pat: But now there are easy ways to keep it all…
Heart: That’s true but remember what you handle you bring into being, reinforce and revive.
Brainstorm – Exodus 1:15-1:22
– Why is Pharaoh letting the girls live?
– Is this the start of the underground women’s network?
– Why is Pharaoh talking to the midwives and not punishing them?
– 2nd animal reference regarding the Hebrews (yishritzu and chayiot)
– Why can’t midwife kill the son after he is born even if she can’t get there in time for the birth?
– Pharaoh’s duplicity in his command to the midwives: makes it look as if he’s dying being born vs. commanding out-and-out murder
– Midwives personal authority: doing what feels right and obeying their “King” Gd.
– Are they Egyptian or Hebrew midwives? Is the text ambiguous on purpose?
– Agency and connection to Gd that women have beyond men: direct and unmediated
– Unrestricted flow of life happening through these women
– Women midwives have no ambivalence in disobeying Pharaoh to propagate life
– Clear in their tending of life force energy
– Midwives responding to highest call—life and not responding or giving any energy to Pharaoh’s fear response
– Why mention the girls in Exodus 1:22 “Every boy throw into the Nile but every girl let live”?
– Pharaoh as metaphor
– What does this fertile life force undermine?
– Internal Pharaoh—wants to be in control
– Once you put yourself in opposition to the messiness of natural life (in this case population growth) by slavery then you get addicted to being able to control and step further away from the natural world/natural processes
Intention – Adina, Exodus 1:15-1:22
I explore what is hidden or what else there is to know in this piece. I engage with this question and relax.
Crazy, swirling ladies. I’m tired and my head hurts. Blue waving through the air like streamers at a New Year’s party. Or smoke drifting around or something more coherent, unraveled. Are they conducting or summoning or directing or releasing? Little faeries. At first just lines. They looked skinny so I added curves. Are they floating over the land or rising from it or laying on it? Their hands connect. What is their relationship to one another? Looks like the red one is carrying it on her back. The weight of all that possibility. Ethereal, waiting to come into existence. Is it light? Heavy? Is the purple one coming in to help? The red one’s head is bent. I will talk to them tomorrow.
Witness 2 – Adina, Exodus 1:15-1:22
Adina: Can either of you speak?
Red Faerie: Make my thighs bigger.
Adina: What is the blue swirling above?
Red Faerie: All the possibilities.
Adina: And do you carry all that?
Red Faerie: We let what will be– be. We let it come through.
Adina: Where are you going?
Red Faerie: This is what we carried with us the whole time in Egypt. This is what we brought with us across the Sea of Reeds: transformative
possibilities. This is what we made our song out of and what we made the sounds of the timbrels from.
Adina: Is it light or heavy?
Red Faerie: It depends on how you carry it. you can move through it like water or, of you resist it, it can be like hacking through ice.
Adina: It looks like you took part of the wave with you.
Red Faerie: Yes. The constantly ebbing/flowing, mounting/releasing, coiling/unwinding—the cycle that creates it all.
Adina: Purple faerie, can you speak?
Purple Faerie: She is giving me power through her hand so that I too can channel the Flow. That’s how it works. One generation teaches the next.
Adina: Interesting. It seems more like she’s transferring power, rather than teaching.
Purple Faerie: Exactly. The transference of power is the teaching. Otherwise, all the potential above us would go away.
Adina: You look a little like you’ve been knocked off your feet.
Purple Faerie: It’s like a jolt of electricity. See, look at my hair!
Adina: I see. You remind me of the women carrying the dough on their backs. What more do you want?
Purple Faerie: Hands and feet.
Witness 3 – Adina, Exodus 1:15-1:22
Well, hands, feet, faces, and a whole lot more. The swirling blue line seems to have become a part of something much more. The color appeared, first as tiny little stars floating around and then their light spread to fill the page. I resisted the faces in the upper right corner for so long, but they really wanted to be there. A house had also appeared between the two faeries, but it blended into the mountain.
Adina: Who are the faces?
Image: Unborn souls. The women are working their magic, doing their dance to bring us into the world. We lay dormant until we are pulled into reality.
Adina: It looks chaotic and they seem far from you. But they do look happy.
Image: She knows that life exists in the swirling chaos.
Adina: Their two hands seems to have become one.
Image: That’s what happens when you are in contact with the Great Energy of the Universe. You become the life, the color that you bring down.
Adina: The souls look very peaceful, floating along, supported.
Image: There is nothing to fear.
Adina: Will others of those forms take shape and face?
Image: Over time, as they are ready.
Adina: I like the fact that they are not walking on the ground, but rather swimming or floating through.
Image: They embody that quality from the souls above.
Adina: There is something almost unreal about the women; their long and windy arms and legs.
Image: They can stretch as far as they need in any direction and they won’t break.
Adina: What do you mean?
Image: Because they aren’t resistant they can bend and stretch in amazing ways. There is no tightening or clenching.
Intention – Pat, Exodus 1:15-1:22
What is hidden in this piece that I can’t yet see?
Three figures emerged, two red, one purple. The red one is pregnant and emerging from a womb or placenta like shape with a golden center. The purple one dancing and cradling energy. Then a red male figure, primitive looking fighting his way out of being sucked into a dark red and black void. I imagine the women graceful and dancing with the energy and the male fearful and fighting. Pat: Can anyone speak? And what about my question? I now see the man is in a crazy cartoon face. Give it ears? That seems trivial but I do it. Now can anyone speak?
Image: Let us rest, there’s more to come.
Second Painting Continues
Intention – Pat, Exodus 1:15-1:22
I re-engage with the painting
Witness 2- Pat, Exodus 1:15-1:22
Pat: What do any of you want?
Image: Give our background more definition.
Pat: Purple figure, you aren’t really a woman, are you?
Purple Figure.: No, I am transitional transforming translating, I stand between the woman and the man. He emerged from the dark, she from the light, the dance of opposites.
Pat: You have a kind face.
Purple Figure.: Thank you, I love my job. I am an adjuster. Yes, put black in the center.
Pat: Why aren’t they relating to each other?
Purple Figure.: They’re lost.
Pat: But they must have been together, she’s pregnant?
Purple Figure: All women are always pregnant. All life is always pregnant. Call forth possibilities. He is resisting the need to go into the dark. She’s very exhilarated to be emerging from the light. They imagine it’s all about them and what they are doing but that’s not so.
Pat: So the 2 playful animals, a light one and a dark one? I am struck again by that space on the right and a sense of emptiness there.
Purple Figure.: Stop thinking and make more beautiful colorful chaos in the background.
Pat: Ok. So this empty space, is it important to keep it empty? I feel tempted to paint it black, void-like and fertile. I have to admit I’m a little perplexed with this and I have a headache and that empty space…
Bear: Put iridescent spirals and black.
Pat: Done with that. The purple arm seems to be guarding the red/black stuff from the spirals in the black. Another kind of dividing of dark from darker, active. What about my question?
Image: The unknown to come is unfolding according to its own design.
Pat: I just noticed the red now is contained in the woman’s body more gracefully, why is your hand so big?
Woman: I am now the maker and my hands are open not in fists like the man’s who wants to grasp and fight. Don’t get too worked up over this, its just the turn of the wheel, nothing to be triumphal about. You will form the red into vessels not so much into machines you will gather and receive, embellish and enjoy because you will practice coming with an open hand. Miriam’s hand holds a drum, that is a kind of offering, sound; things don’t need to be concrete.
Pat: I’m feeling lost, like I’m just randomly re-hashing things I already know.
Woman: Close your eyes and open them and look again, what do you see?
Pat: The yellow animal’s eye ice void in the light – so it’s the holding of awareness together, light and dark.
Woman: Holding it lightly.
Pat: It looks like a seed.
Woman: Practice holding that seed and tending it like this practice, not knowing and not minding that you don’t know, be eager to see what’s next. Light is hidden in everything, laugh it out of hiding, daughter’s laughter brings it forward ha ha ha don’t get hung up in anything just do the next thing in front of you. It is being God-like to recognize the good and the beautiful. Ki tov.
Brainstorm – Exodus 2:1-2:1-10
– What is the meaning of three months? Hiding the baby?
– Extremely different narrative going on among the women
– Seems like a sort of ritualized back and forth between Miriam and Bat Paraoh
– What was Moses’ mother’s experience?
– How would this be told differently from the point of view of Miriam, Bat Paraoh and Moses’ mother?
– How does Bat Paraoh get away with this?
– Paraoh as an impotent character in relation to these women
– Significance of daughters
– Moses not floating down Nile, rather put in a particular place (reeds) where he will be found
– All the women are in on it, including Bat Pharaoh’s servants – crossing all boundaries of class, ethnic group, religion, etc
– No emotions mentioned here (versus Moses’ anger when he strikes down the taskmaster)
– Caulking the basket as an effort and knowledge to save Moses
– Were the maidens of Bat Paraoh scanning the Nile for babies to save?
– Why does Bat Paraoh promise to pay Moses’ mother wages for nursing him?
– Where any Hebrew babies actually being killed, or were all Egyptians saving them in this way?
– Were Shifra and Puah Bat Paraoh’s nursemaids? If so, were they training her?
– “Ki tov” is what Moses’ mother “saw” in him – parallels to the creation in Genesis
– If so, Moses’ mother parallel to Gd. It is Gdlike to recognize the “tov” beauty.
– “Chomer” and “Chemar” morter for the bricks the slaves built and bitumen that seals the basket
– Three months that Moses is kept with his mother as the fourth trimester of her birthing him. At three months he’s been fully formed and she can fully distinguish herself from him (= “ki tov”) some cycle is completed.
– Moses’ mother leaves him without a sense of longing or regret
– Terms describing Moses change from “ben” (related to mother) to “yeled” (own entity)
– Why does she put Moses in the Nile, a place sacred to the Egyptians?
– Moses not damaged by the abandonment because so quickly embraced by Bat Paraoh
– “She made him her son” ritual by which he’s been initiated
– “Moshe” means “I drew him out of the water” has resonances of the feminine, emotional life, void, Miriam
– Water: Parts Sea, smashes rock which causes Water to burst forth
– Smashing the rock: how could he doubt that he would be sustained and nourished after his life long initiation into water?
Intention – Adina, Exodus 2:1-2:10
I illustrate an image of the scene of the women practicing
A child-like image. The men bent down in the background. Palms in the foreground, the pyramids behind. Muted colors. Four women in the foreground. Bat Paraoh in the water, up from her bathing, watching as the slave girl follows her command to see what is contained in the basket in the reeds. Miriam in the background, behind a bush, watching on. Moses’ mother under the palm a ways off, breasts exposed, waiting to be called to nurse her son. An empty middle between the two sets of women. I wonder, with the men away, why play act? Who is this charade for? But Bat Paraoh looks seriously worried. She is naked, as is Moses’ birth mother. The basket looks like a coffin.
OK, I did a bunch of touch ups, brightened it. I see some interesting things. Mounds formed around the grove of trees. The trees seem protective for the women, perhaps sister trees of the Asherot they once worshiped. The mounds reflect the shape of the pyramids. The mounds between which the women took the men and forced them to have set in order to keep life going, new generations coming. “The more they oppressed them, the more they increased.” Nature is everywhere in this image: the grove, the mounds, the protective reeds, the bush concealing Miriam, the tree under which the mother sits, the flowing stream.
Bat Paraoh in the middle of the dividing line. She jumps into the Nile, the waters flowing around her body, a mikvah of sorts, perhaps. She is cleansed of the disgrace of her father’s decrees and can see clearly. Her senses receptive, she immediately spies the basket. Miriam looks very masculine and sort of Egyptian. Maybe it’s not Miriam; maybe it’s Paraoh, watching the whole scene. He often goes to the Nile “early in the morning.” His heart later hardens because his own daughter has been betrayed by. He is powerless in the height of his power. That water changes Bat Paraoh; the water changes slavery to freedom.
Bat Paraoh can you speak? Who are you, character in blue? You look like a hieroglyph. Fist in air? Frozen in time. Stiff and stationary or strong and grounded? Moses’ mother, relaxed, attentive, protected by the tree. Now the figure looks like Miriam again. In the background, checking on the scene, she knows she is not the one to play the leading role but rather to orchestrate behind the scenes. She is ready to take the stage next, to bring the baby to his mother to nurse. The slave girl is bent over like the slave men in the background, but bent towards redeeming life from death.
Intention – Pat, Exodus 2:1-2:10
I open to an image that helps to clarify the emerging story.
Only BP, Moses and Miriam appear in the scene, amid the lush reeds and flowing Nile. A vast space separates them from the distant labors of the pyramids and the enslavement of the people. Moses is surrounded by female energy active on his behalf. For BP he seems to represent a chance at redemption. She recognizes that her mother and her own bodily narrowness represents the restricted and effete culture that has grown up in Egypt focusing on denying and controlling death rather than celebrating and living life. She looks older than a young daughter here; perhaps child bearing has in fact passed her by. Both she and Miriam reach toward Moses, both are united in an effort to support and nurture a more robust masculine energy and one who will be restored to acting justly. Miriam’s devotion to her brother recalls the relationship of the Egyptian stories of Isis and Osiris so they strike a special chord in BP.
Pat: Can anyone speak?
BP: I’ve longed for a child! I can’t bear the Egyptian men, they are weak and spineless but also I couldn’t risk my life and health. If I too were lost my father would go mad and murder the people, not just enslave them. We have become a culture obsessed with death because we dishonor life. This boy will be my act of reparation, my chance to turn my misfortune to good.
Miriam: Thank you for your grace and kindness and for saving my brother.
Reeds: We live in the swamp edge where the most fertility lives, we create a magical space where change can be grown and nurtured in almost invisible ways, we filter the evil waste that Pharaoh dumps in the Nile in his mad plans to conquer death.
Pat: So the story emerging here is about women’s cooperation to maintain the balance of creation? And the lengths to which civilizations go to overcome natural law. I have a sense of putting a golden halo over BP, actually each character and I am resisting that impulse.
Nile: That indicates that their actions and participation are numinous – ki tov, do it.
(I added the numinous radiance to all the characters)
Reeds: Good, ki tov. See how what you place in the foreground comes to life and grows in energy, the rest does disappear, it recedes and can eventually fade for lack of energy. It is not in the fighting against that you make effective change but in the calling away of your energy into those things you wish to increase, in this case, love, justice and leadership. Pharaoh’s daughter could have been cruel too; she had losses of her own. It was her contact with the midwives during her life, their practical kindness that shaped her character and made her able to form alliances with other women regardless of their station or race.
Pat: So a strong message here is to invite women across groups to come together?
Image: First it is to write that story and breathe life into it by telling and re-telling it will happen on its own.
Pat: What about the men?
Image: They are weary and need to hear this too, they will be relieved, they know their ways aren’t working.
Pat: So what’s next?
Image: An image of a circle of women in dance and celebration.
Pat: How did this work? The women didn’t prevent the pyramids and don’t prevent what is happening now.
Image: Mitigation and balance. You need to go far enough into the place to know what is too far. The women must articulate a test for the ethic of care, to which everything must be submitted. That active drive doesn’t need to be stopped, just tempered.
In the next phase, the women have a circle and ritual together where BP takes a new name, Bat Yah, daughter of Yah and this is ultimately what hardens Pharaoh’s heart against the Hebrews, this ultimate betrayal, brought about by BP’s having raised a Hebrew as her son.
Midrash – Adina
The time had come. Shifra and Puah gave the signal. It was time to put the network in place. It’s funny, I had imagined it being much more stressful, but at this point the men—Egyptian and Hebrew alike—were seldom seen and therefore not a threat to our plan. The efforts of enslavement took up all the time and energy of the men: forcing labor, building structures, enforcing rules, scheming to avoid punishment, their game was endless. As much as the Hebrew men were dulled and degraded, the Egyptian men were as well. It became difficult to determine who was enslaving whom by this point. Like mice on a treadmill, energy was going around and around in that circle of oppression.
Like I said, this certainly made things easier on our end. Pharaoh had issued the decree to kill all male Hebrew babies. Shifra and Puah understood this murderous decree to b the tipping point they had known was coming for a long time. Our task, simply put, was to make sure these babies were safe and nurtured. But this one act was, we all knew, part of a much larger play. As current and future mothers we of course cared about these babies whose lives were being threatened. But this complete disobedience to Paraoh’s decree was essentially the beginning of the New Cycle. The power of the universe needed to become manifest in a new way. The lens of the feminine needed to envelope society for a while—needed to incubate it until the next cycle reached it’s critical point.
So, up until this point each step in bringing for the New Cycle had been met. First, the general fecundity of the Hebrew women who continued to birth away against Paraoh’s demands, then, Shifra and Puah’s refusal to counteract this fecundity. Now, the network really had to get serious for the tides were about to change in big and sweeping ways. We had found the woman who would carry the child who would lead the Great Shift and we needed to be ready for this child’s arrival.
With the men away, consumed, degraded, angry, it felt as if we were all at liberty to move freely about. Had they been around more, the Egyptian men would surely have tried to seduce, punish, or distract us, and the Hebrew men, they would have tried drill into us the utter hopelessness of life—a mindset they succumbed to early on in this ordeal.
But we knew different. So, we took the liberty of paving the way for the change we saw coming, the change we were dedicated to helping bring about. We set up clinics, camps and training grounds. We had sessions—first and most importantly to bring together and build relationships between the Egyptian women and ourselves. We created spaces where we laughed, danced, cooked, created, told our ancient stories, and learned the ins and outs of how we each related to the Great Force. It was really an amazing time. Though on one level I was “just a Hebrew slave,” in this circle of loving and supportive sisters all hierarchies were leveled. This was a relic of the Old Paradigm, Pharaoh’s daughter would often remind me. We had healing sessions where our most practiced witches would heal past traumas, making us more vital and clear for the Shift to come. We practiced opening open, letting go, and releasing expectations. Had any one of us tried to direct this next iteration of existence in a heavy-handed way we would have become the slaves and slave masters in our story of ideas and egos.
It’s funny how the story often gets told, the focus on the baby himself. Somehow, the point gets missed that its how he came into being that was so essential. But, of course, each cycle tells the tale in the way it needs to be heard in that particular time period.
The planning progressed, trainings continued and our society became rich and vibrant such that we were ready for the next stage. Levina was about to give birth and move our Shift forward. We all took roles for the Next Stage. I was to be the “slave girl” who Bat Paraoh would send to fetch the baby in the basket. I would bring him to her, a sort of bridge between birth mother and adoptive mother. There were maidens to accompany Bat Paraoh to the Nile, Shifra and Puah to continue their work making sure the male babies were allowed to live. And there was Levina’s daughter—later known as Miriam.
Bat Levina and Bat Paraoh. It was clear that these two women were connected in ways beyond our comprehension. It was as though they shared one heart, one vision. Miriam became the director of our ever-unfolding drama. She strategized, cued, and wrote our lines. Miriam somehow saw it all very clearly, much more clearly than any of us could. I think at times this weighed heavy on her. When we would all be laughing around the fire late at night she would be in the shadows, keeping to herself. It was as if she knew she needed to reserve her strength for later down the line.
Midrash – Pat
Pharaoh’s daughter passed under the window of her father’s meeting room. She heard his voice rise and his fist strike the table, “These Hebrews are swarming over the land. They must be stopped!” She felt a knot in her stomach. She hated it when her father wielded his power in cruel ways. She had Hebrew servants and had had a Hebrew nursemaid who cared lovingly for her when her own mother died in childbirth. Pharaoh had never recovered from the death of his queen. He blamed the women who had attended the birth, Shifra and Puah, still he was afraid of them, too. They were like witches and they knew things that even his most learned magicians did not know. Pharaoh’s voice thundered, “When you attend the births of these Hebrews, kill the boys but let the girls live.”
Pharaoh’s daughter listened closely, crouched near the window. She heard Shifra murmur something and then the room grew silent. She hurried around to the other side to seem to bump into the two women as they excited to salon. “Oh1 Hello” she began, but the dark look in the women’s eyes stopped her. These women he been like beloved aunts to the girl. When she achieved menarche, they instructed her in women’s ways. They taught her methods to ease the cramping pains with herbs and tonics. They also told her how her mother’s passage had been too narrow and tight and they encouraged her to walk and ride horses and be active to be more able to comfortably bear children when her time came. Yet, she too had narrow hips and they warned her about this. The daughter was old enough now that she understood the vastness of her father’s power and his cruelty.
The women stopped before her. “Your father has decided to eliminate any newborn Hebrew boys,” Puah said, her eyes flashed, “His own ministers have advised against this course.” “He has asked, no, commanded us to murder them,” Shifra added. The daughter replied, “You must not! He has never come to terms with having no son himself, he’s jealous of the Hebrews and their families. He doesn’t value a daughter as he would a son, but till, I think he can be distracted from this awful plan. He’ll forget about it as other matters come before him and demand his attention.”
That night the daughter tossed and turned in her bed as the moon poured through her window and made it too bright to sleep. Finally, she fell into a deep state of dreaming. A tall beautiful woman appeared before her and handed her a scroll. As you become a woman your father will be swayed by your wisdom. Influence him to soften his edicts or great harm will come to all your people even many times more than the pain Pharaoh inflicts. His heart is damaged, his thinking is not clear. You have a role to play.”
When she awoke she remembered the dream clearly and wondered if the woman who had appeared resembled her own mother, whom she had never known. She called her servants to prepare her things. “Come, let us bathe in the Nile!” “But you have a marble bath right here.” “The day is warm and this room is cold and bare.” The women gathered all the things for her bath and they set off together to walk to the Nile. The women grumbled to themselves, they preferred the comforts of the palace, but Bat Paraoh strode along purposefully, feeling filled with a budding sense of her own power.
The water of the Nile glistened in the sun and the sighing of the reeds along the bank were calming whispers. As she saw the huge buildings rising in the distance she felt a pang of sadness and disgust—so much effort to work against the beauty of the natural world. Every day younger children pressed into labor, more and more plans to expand the empire. More jealous rage at the life force of the Hebrews, more meetings with magicians and sorcerers to control more life.
Suddenly, Bat Paraoh heard the cry of a baby and hurried towards to reeds. Her eyes fell on a basket, carefully coated with pitch against the water. She bent to lift the cover and saw a squealing child. Her heart opened and tears fell. How could her father imagine he had the right to murder life? She called to her maids who pulled the basket from the reeds. Then, a young girl stepped from behind a stand of papyruses. “Who are you?” Bat Paraoh said kindly, “What do you know about this child?” “He is my brother, my mother hid him here to preserve his life. There was a rumor that the boys would be gathered up and killed, she felt perhaps if he were hidden for a while, he’d be spared.”
Bat Paraoh began to cry softly. These people are brave and loving, their sons deserve to live and prosper. “Call your mother to me, I will protect her son and help her. I will restore him to his mother and care for him and together we will raise him to be fair and just, not like the men who have fallen into cruelty and enslavement.” She gathered up he maids, Hebrew and Egyptian alike, and said to them and to Miriam, “It is up to us to stop this madness. I know just who can lead us and help us! Shifra, Puah and the midwives—they are the wisest women in all of Egypt and for the sake of all our people we must begin anew and craft a life that is for life and not obsessed with exhausting life because the men fear death. This evening when the men are exhausted from all their labors and the ministers are busy trying to win my father’s favor, we’ll meet in my chambers.”
Intention – Adina, Exodus 2:1-2:10
I see another image of this section from the women’s perspective. I play with the questions: what was Moses’ upbringing like? How did the women raise him? She goes into the water and draws him out. He draws water and finds a wife. What image wants to come through: celebration, dancing, the coming together.
So fun, so much action. I can feel the rhythm of their dancing, the sounds of their instruments thumping like the heartbeat of the earth herself. Wild in their reverie, hair swinging, skirts bouncing, feet naked on the soil, a soft breeze flowing gently through. Their voices cry out in yelps and song, reaching into the night: the sacred dance of women. The moon looks soft and quiet. The darkness of the evening seems to awaken them, calling them out to infuse the elements with their creativity, their joy, their passion. Miriam on the drum in the corner, keeping the beat, the heart rate, thumping. Bat Paraoh in the middle with the timbrel, picking up this instrument from Miriam’s bag of percussion.
Long before the redemption happened they were gathering together, making music. and dancing on the Earth. In secret gatherings they came together—Egyptian and Hebrew women from all strata—and they embedded in the ground, the air, the sky the thumping, pulsing, knocking on the hearts of redemption. It infused the land and permeated the rocks and trees. It is the thumping of this constant, relentless, intoxicating pulse that eventually caused the pyramids and the system of oppression through which they were built to crumble and recede back into the belly of the Earth, a pile of rubble.
Each woman in her own state of worship, ecstasy, devotion, release, yet together with her sisters; each woman adding to the beat with her own variations. They feel the darkness coming, the soon to be waning of the moon, yet they are not afraid. The more the darkness grows the harder they dance, as if they were conducting the ebb and flow of time with the rhythm of their movements.
By the time they were crossing the sea the miracle had long since occurred: the coalescing of energy and belief in a different way of life, the willingness to step into the unknown wilderness had already happened, the release of the mental shackles of slavery, the openness to what was next. Of course they danced and sang when they made it across, but they had known with a full-bodied knowledge that that moment would occur. Crossing the sea was the easy part. The years and years of barefoot dancing, writhing, screaming, chanting, banging, pounding, pulsing had finally penetrated into the hearts of all people. The Egyptians released their grip and began to bounce and shake and shimmy. the Hebrews began to lift their heads, straighten their spines and tentatively step one foot and then the other. And the pounding that eventually grew so strong, first from the nightly gatherings and then from the roaring movements of both peoples, is what caused the system to crumble and the sea to split.
Intention – Pat, Exodus 2:1-2:10
New Piece, what are the stories of Moses and BP? What wants to surface about the lives and actions of the women that can guide and instruct us?
Night sky, new moon, Rosh Hodesh? Six women including BP dance in a circle on the banks of the Nile. Their energy feels playful and strong. There are trees by the water’s edge. It seems like a spiral of energy should rise forth in the sky from their effort.
Intention – Pat, Exodus 2:1-2:10
I reengage the image and follow it to completion.
Witness 2 – Pat, Exodus 2:1-2:10
Six women dance, sing and play instruments under a bright moon. Above them a face and figure appears in the sky. A grove of trees protects them from view as they celebrate in a circle of light. The Nile flows past them. I feel slightly exhausted as I look at the painting. My head feels hot and I feel as if I could pass out.
Image: You don’t really yet realize the cost of what you are asking for.
Pat: Who is speaking?
Moon: I am. You complain that the weather is cold and damp, yet that is Yin weather. Do you really want the changes that my return brings?
Pat: I became ill in the cold, damp cloud forest; this weather scares me.
Moon: It is meant to drive you inward to that place deep inside where new ideas are whispered to waiting souls. It is not a big, active process.
Pat: But what about the dancing women?
Moon: They are calling down the fertile stillness of winter that you all fight against. Once they have received the visions, they will not dance again, they will withdraw and incubate them.
Pat: And the face and figure in the sky, can you speak?
Face: (deep growl) I am the Lady of the Life Force Lion you see behind me we appear together and we are your next image. A Yin version of the image you have done before. You should all be celebrating my clouds that now enshroud you. Welcome this phase and give thanks for it don’t fight it with excessive action and plans. Make your space an abode of spirit; in your heart prepare to receive. Stillness, quiet, inaction, corpse pose and simple food, simple pleasures. Withdraw from anything exhausting.
Pat: Okay, this all sounds like good winter advice.
Trees: It’s much more than that, the Shekinah is dwelling in your midst, honor Her and let Her penetrate your inmost space. You don’t understand how necessary this is to wean yourselves from your addiction to action, production, doing. If you do nothing but this, the world would be saved. Cold, wet, damp, dark, this is how bones lie in the earth. You need to be like bones lying in the earth.
Pat: Okay, I get it.
Shekinah: Do you? This is the time to shed and let things fall away. It may look to those outside as depression, do not let this frighten you. This experience that you all shun must be embraced. In order to replenish and build energy for what is to blossom. Go about your business as usual, conserving energy and honoring and welcoming fatigue, lethargy, aimlessness and lack of ambition. The lion must sleep.
Pat: Are you sure this isn’t a cop-out? A scam?
Moon: This is time to learn to receive the feeling of true stillness that so often eludes you in warmer times.
Pat: Am I making this up because I’m tired? Is this really what receptivity feels like?
Moon: Yes and then when the time is right, right action arises effortlessly.
Pat: If I stop I begin to feel as if I am dissolving.
Moon: This is your practice, practice dissolving every day, later paint a silver lion and his Shekinah resting together.
Pat: Okay. What about Moses and BP?
Shekinah: This is the antidote to the poison of slavery. Slavery is in part man’s belligerence and refusal to rest, to allow the time of the feminine its due slavery is an affront nor only because it denies the divinity in the slaves but because it uses the slaves labor to insult God. It is the fear of Yin that causes all this over-active hyperactivity. Moses did the best he could but it was too much like the despair of the slaves’ souls, they couldn’t handle it. This is a story that can be called forth now but it takes amazing bravery, many will scoff even though in every way your own bodies are telling this truth: obesity, chronic illnesses, stop stop stop allow the Great She a space to return. Make the circle dance and sing then “all fall down.” You call it exile, that is a misconception.
Pat: Exile is collapsing?
Moon: It is the going out of action and purpose into the state of wandering, another metaphor for Yin.
Pat: Okay, I feel exhausted! I guess I will say thank you!
All the images: You are welcome!
There is an intelligence, the Soul of the World, Calling forth new ideas at all times. The call is urgent in this time of great change throughout human cultures and the earth itself. I have seen these ideas arrive in my images and the images of many others. All of us are being called to midwife a great transition of consciousness, and art making is one of the best ways to receive new understanding in this process. We are living in a time when old ideas are wearing out and new ones are needed. Institutional forms of all kinds are crumbling and we have the opportunity to envision new ways to make meaning in how we live, treat one another, express reverence and awe, solve conflicts, and steward the planetary resources with which we have been entrusted. Art making, especially in small groups, can serve as sanctuary, asylum, ashram, therapy group, think tank, and Village Square. Art is a vehicle that allows us to transcend linear time, to travel backward and forward into personal and transpersonal history, into possibilities that weren’t realized and those that might be.[i]
To form an image community, take two or more people, sit down together at a table or tape paper to the wall. State an intention collectively as well as individually: What do you really wish to call into your life? Write down these intentions. Make marks on the paper in a way that gives you pleasure, with whatever materials are at hand. After a while, sit down and look at what has been created. Notice what captures your attention, and write what comes. Then read to each other the new stories you’ve received. Next week, do it again. Light a candle. Bring food. Bless one another. We can recover all we need to know.[ii]
– Pat Allen Art is a Spiritual Path
Pat: Working on this Shemot project with Adina has given me a chance to understand the next iteration of my life’s work in a very important way. The work of the Studio Process originated as my effort to discern an alternative to the therapist-patient dynamic that I was taught in my training as an art therapist. I knew intuitively that the healing force of the creative process is inherent in everyone and could be activated via art making. For thirty years I have seen the work enable people to claim the birthright of creativity to understand themselves on deep soul levels and to connect with the Divine. For the past several years the work has evolved into discerning ways for not just individuals but groups to work from a shared intention. Combining the Studio Process with hevruta has helped me understand how to work with this next phase. The work Adina and I did together, each bringing something to the project, feels like a manifestation of the post-hierarchical possibilities that exist and need to be nurtured in so many settings. To have this experience with my daughter is profoundly meaningful. Sharing expertise while not claiming to be the “expert” is a subtle yet critical shift that feels like is releases many of the blocks to harmonious group involvement. This feels like holy work and I look forward to its continued unfolding.
Adina: Working on this project has allowed me the opportunity to combine two methodologies of learning, two ways of knowing, that are most significant to me. I have been able to take the beit midrash experience of rabbinical school—close study of text, reading traditional and modern commentaries, discerning Hebrew word plays, etc—and combine it with the Studio Process—activating the imagination, delving into the subconscious realm, following pleasure and play. It has been an incredible experience to combine these two types of learning—one through study and one through inquiry. What has emerged is for me is a holistic approach to accessing new information that challenges and supports me in being receptive on multiple levels at once. At this time in history it seems clear to me that we are in need of new ways of relating to one another, to the Divine, and to the planet. I believe that the more varied voices we can bring into the discussion of our ancient texts, the more interpretations, understandings, translations and stories we can uncover. In this way we breath life into our texts and our texts, in turn, bring us back to life. Working with my mom on this has been valuable and important not only because we have been able to combine our fields of knowledge and deepen our relationship, but also because it feels as though we are in the process of creating a model of intergenerational work that has enormous potential for the future. I feel profound gratitude for the opportunity to engage in this work and can’t wait to see where it takes us next.
[i] Pat B Allen “The Pardes Studio Process” http://www.studiopardes.com.
[ii] Art Green Radical Judaism: Rethinking God & Tradition (New Haven: Yale UP, 2010) 83.
[iii] Geoffrey H. Hartman and Sanford Budick, Midrash and Literature, (New Haven: Yale UP, 1986) 53.
[iv] Hartman and Budick 15.
[v] Green 164.
[vi] Green 164
[viii] Pat B Allen Art is a Spiritual Path (Boston: Shambhala, 2005) 11.
[ix] Wikipedia “Midrash”
[x] Allen “The Pardes Studio Process