Timshel

Activity Being Avoided: getting dressed
Music In My HeadChild–Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (What?  Not Mumford and Sons’ Timshel?  No.  I’ve listened to it constantly for six months but, as I write this,  my brain is apparently moving on.  Not that Child is a bad song; it just would have made so much more sense to be humming Timshel.)
Tea Being Drunk: peppermint.
Book Being Read: Paris Demands — Mike Miksche

I like change.

Not that everything should always be changing—I like a home base, so to speak—but if there’s never anything new, a terrible boredom sets in. There should be something refreshing to consider while sitting on the bus, etc.

As of last winter, my religious views hadn’t been updated in a while. Three years ago, I left the Anglican church due to irreconcilable differences; two years ago, I joined the Unitarian church and found like-minded people, but their library is small and old, and within a year I was feeling spiritually mired. Of course, the universe doesn’t send fireworks just because boredom has set in, so I remained mired for several months.

Then Christmas came. No, it wasn’t some sort of Christian revolution: I just had time to read books that aren’t part of the Ontario curriculum, and I finally finished John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I fell in love with Lee (of course, because you know my weakness for Shakespearean fools) and had my world shaken up a bit.

In the vileness that is February, I realised I was still thinking about timshel, a word which Steinbeck pilfered from Genesis and translates as thou mayest, and which is the conceit of the novel. I hadn’t realised it had caught my attention while I was reading the novel, but the word was taking up a lot of space in my brain as I marched back and forth through the snow. It was a beautiful feeling. I started doing a little research on the word: hauled out my concordances and fired up Google, pestered a couple of librarians… and realised I wasn’t getting what I wanted. The problem being, obviously, that I had no idea what I was demanding from this single word.

When in doubt, go to the source.

I temporarily ditched Steinbeck’s Anglicised timshel and went for the Hebrew timshol-bo (having various translations, a popular one being you will have dominion over him). I was searching for truth in the nobility of an ancient language. A couple of Jewish friends sent me resources, none of which really satisfied me. It didn’t seem possible that this single, impossible-to-translate phrase, which seems to be relatively unimportant to Jews and Christians alike, could have become the theme for an entire novel—a huge whack of a novel, at that—and, well, become quite the mindfuck for me.

So I didn’t find what I was looking for in Hebrew, either. But someone sent me this really cool essay on Hebrew grammar which entertained me for some time. (When spirituality fails, there’s always linguistics.)

After a few months, I was getting frustrated. When frustrated, walking is generally the solution (see solvitur ambulando, which I have also had to accept in translation because it’s the only way it serves me). It only took about 5 km to figure it out.

  1. I do not hold any single religious text holy. Some books are holy for a while, and then they lose their ability to guide me; other books have served me very well since I first laid hands on them. As well, as there’s divinity in the Muses, there’s no need for the books to be accepted by an organised religion.
  2. Despite a certain inclination towards proper grammar, I also do not believe pure language is holy. Words can be tempered, modified, bloody-well bastardised to suit one’s needs. I am, after all, an English-speaker by birth: I have absolutely no qualms about thieving and mangling for my own purposes.

East of Eden is my newest holy book; timshel is my newest holy word. When I need a little guidance, I can open the novel to any page and it will give me a direction to follow; when I need reassurance, I think to myself, you may, and go from there.

I like you may—not, as Steinbeck wrote it, thou mayest, because that just has too many vowel sounds to be a respectable phrase. You may brings with it an image of my maternal grandmother squinting at me through slightly dusty horn-rimmed glasses: go ahead and do what you like, but be prepared for the consequences. That, I think, is how I want to approach my spiritual life from here on.

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One response to “Timshel

  1. Pingback: Change of Heart | The English Major's Blog

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